Income redistribution: Where should we start ?

by John Quiggin on September 26, 2015

Here’s another draft extract from my book-in-progress, Economics in Two Lessons, looking at income distribution. The entire draft section on this topic is available here. And the introduction, describing the general approach of the book is here.

Praise is welcome, and useful criticism even more so. As a reminder, this is an extract. If you think a crucial point has been missed, point it out, but bear in mind that it may be addressed elsewhere in the book.

If we are going to consider changes in the distribution of income and wealth, what should we take as our starting point? There are various possibilities, many of which are of theoretical interest, but not of much practical use.

Hazlitt doesn’t spell out the starting point for his analysis. However, his analysis is based on the implicit claim (spelt out in more detail by Bastiat) that there is a natural distribution of private property rights, that exists prior to any government activity such as taxation and the payment of welfare benefits.

This is nonsense. It is impossible to disentangle some subset of property rights and entitlements from the social and economic framework in which they are created and enforced.

The ordinary meaning of “property” refers to a specific kind of control over resources, most completely realised in freehold ownership of land. Freehold land can, with limited exceptions, be used as the owner sees fit, and freely sold, rented out or otherwise disposed of. In the idealised model which forms the basis of much thinking about property, all property is of this kind.

Most of the time, we take the existing allocation of property rights for granted. This is, however, an example of exactly the fallacy pointed out by Bastiat, that of focusing on what is seen and ignoring the unseen alternatives. All property rights began with a social decision to create and enforce someone’s right to use a particular good, asset or idea, and to regulate the way in which that right might, or might not, be transferred to others. [In societies without a formal state structure or legal system, these decisions may be made through custom or consensus. In modern societies they are made by governments and courts].

In some of the cases discussed in Section 2, such as those of telecommunications spectrum and fishing quotas, the rights were created relatively recently, and the process by which they were created is well documented. In somewhat older cases, such as that of the 19th century innovations which created limited liability corporations, the history has been forgotten by all but a few specialists. Going even further back, property rights in land and in ordinary goods (chattels, in legal parlance) are mostly taken for granted, even though they are all derived, in the final analysis, from a socially-created legal framework.

In any society, people have views about what property rights are legitimate and, in particular, what they themselves are entitled to. These views may or may not match the property rights that actually prevail in that society. For example, workers commonly regard of their job as belonging to them, in some sense. In some places, this perception is supported by laws prohibiting unfair dismissal. In the US, by contrast, the doctrine of employment at will means that the job is the property of the employer.

Propertarians like Hazlitt want to pare back government to the minimum necessary to protect the property rights of which they approve. These include rights over land and houses, private sector financial assets and personal possessions. Other rights, currently enforced by government, should, in their view, be abolished.

There are two main difficulties with this.

First, propertarians disagree among themselves as to which government functions should be retained, and which property rights should be maintained. For example, some support core government functions like police and fire services while others want these to provided, on a market basis, to those willing to pay for them. Similarly, some propertarians, support the idea that the creators of ideas should have unlimited ‘intellectual property’ in those ideas, while others believe that ‘information ought to be free’.

Moreover, while propertarians almost invariably oppose ‘welfare’ benefits paid out of tax revenue, such as social security, there is no clear dividing line between these benefits and contractually obligatory payments such as pensions for public and private workers.

The fine distinctions between Austrians, minarchists, objectivists, and anarcho-capitalists are too complex and tedious to be detailed here. The point is that any attempt to define, on the basis of logical first principles, a ‘natural’ set of property rights, independent of government, runs rapidly into quicksand.

The second problem is that any attempt to strip all rights and entitlements back to a minimal set corresponding to a naive notion of ‘private property’ would not produce anything like the existing distribution of private property rights. Some kinds of private property would become much more valuable, and others much less so. An example can be seen in the mass privatisations that followed the end of Communism in Russia and other countries in the former Soviet bloc., These processes greatly enriched a handful of oligarchs and greatly impoverished everyone else, leading to the loss of the little .

It is impossible to describe a proposed starting point based on such a radical change with any accuracy. So, we can’t really say what the opportunity cost of shifting property rights from one person to another might be in such a situation.

It makes sense, therefore, to start thinking about the initial allocation with reference to our actual position rather than to some or other theoretical ideal.

In most modern societies, governments collect a substantial proportion of national income in taxation revenue. Some of this revenue is spent on the provision of public services, and some on ‘transfer payments’ such as social security, unemployment and disability insurance, and assistance to poor families.

The starting point therefore includes both the existing set of property rights of workers, the employment position of worker and the rights and obligations of members of the community to receive government services and benefits and to pay the taxes necessary to finance those services and benefits.

1.1.3 The opportunity costs of redistribution

There are many policy changes that will improve the starting position for some members of the community. Examples include

(A) Reducing marginal rates of income tax above some income level, which will benefit those with taxable incomes above that level.

(B) Increasing the duration of intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents, which will benefit the owners of those rights

(C) Increasing the number of publicly funded places in colleges and universities, which will benefit the young people who are enable to attend

(D) Increasing social security payments and unemployment insurance, which will benefit those who are unable to work because of age or inability to find a job

(E) Increasing the minimum wage

Over the past 40 years, we have seen substantial changes of types (A) and (B) in the United States and elsewhere around the world. The top marginal rate of income tax has been reduced from … to … . The maximum term of copyright protection has been extended from … Other measures, such as the use of ISDS provisions in trade agreements, have created a variety of new and expanded property rights for corporations.

By contrast, there have been few changes of types (C), (D) and (E). On the contrary, public funding of universities has been reduced, eligibility for social security has been tightened and the real value of the minimum wage has been reduced.

This outcome reflects the logic of opportunity cost. To finance increased expenditure on some goal or to reduce the taxes paid by one group, the government must find offsetting cuts in expenditure or increased taxes elsewhere, or else accept a larger deficit, incurring a debt that will have to be serviced in the future. The least unattractive of these options, as evidenced by the choices of policymakers, will constitute the opportunity cost of providing the benefit.

Creating new property rights or extending old ones provides the owner with control over resources, including ideas, that were previously accessible to all. Users other than the owner will either be excluded from the resource or will have to negotiate terms with the owner; the associated costs represent the opportunity cost.

{ 185 comments }

1

Stephen Clark 09.26.15 at 4:45 am

I’m enjoying your process.

Moving the starting point up from zero can change many of the definitions and political considerations. An unconditional, universal dividend has a real claim at being distribution and not redistribution. Each of your examples (increased property rights, lower taxes, freer college, minimum wage) become to some extent narrow interests against which political opposition can be organized around envy. All can be argued for from a societal point of view but each leaves the majority asking “where’s my issue.”

The equal dividend can be combined with a flat tax and the result is a continuously graduated net effect. The average person is a net zero.

It also challenges the notion that the only access to money must be through “employment”.

The starting point is now poverty. This is what gives the employer the power advantage in wage negotiations.

The “opportunity cost” of leaving the majority of the world in poverty dwarfs all other “opportunity costs.” Our value to each other in the network known as the economy is yuge, to borrow from Mr. Trump. It is an inverse form of insurance.

2

Brett 09.26.15 at 5:11 am

It mostly looks pretty good, although

All property rights began with a decision by governments to create and enforce someone’s right to use a particular good, asset or idea, and to regulate the way in which that right might, or might not, be transferred to others.

I’m . . . not entirely sold on this. In a strict legal sense of obligation by society to enforce, then yes, property rights are just a legal fiction that can be possessed and transferred in certain ways. But people do seem to develop a sense of “ownership” over things they’ve invested time and labor into, whether or not they hold the legal rights – otherwise there would be no issues with squatters. Does that mean that the personal sense of property exists even outside of a legal regime to enforce and entitle it?

3

John Quiggin 09.26.15 at 5:47 am

Brett, I’ve edited a bit in response to this point. See if it helps to clarify the argument.

4

ZM 09.26.15 at 7:08 am

This is a very interesting topic for me, particularly in terms of ideas of property and ownership since I am studying urban planning, also because of my interest in etymology and history, and finally because of my hope of being being part of an action to take the Commonwealth (Federation of Australian States) or Crown (State of Victoria) to court for mismanagement of their public trust duties in regards to not acting sufficiently to maintain a safe climate for future Australians, so I am going to comment on the OP bit by bit.

“The ordinary meaning of “property” refers to a specific kind of control over resources, most completely realised in freehold ownership of land. Freehold land can, with limited exceptions, be used as the owner sees fit, and freely sold, rented out or otherwise disposed of. In the idealised model which forms the basis of much thinking about property, all property is of this kind.”

The etymology of the word “property” is from the Anglo-Norman proper and the Middle French propre and Old French popre, from etymon classical Latin proprius meaning one’s own, personal, private, peculiar, special, particular, suitable, appropriate, expressed in appropriate terms, literal, (of a word) having its own literal meaning, denoting a particular person or place.

If we look at the word property, we find it has multiple meanings, from being the quality or characteristic of a person or thing, the quality of being proper or appropriate; fitness, fittingness, suitability; the proper use or sense of words, to something belonging to a thing
and the fact of owning something or of being owned; the right to the possession, use, or disposal of a thing; ownership, proprietorship etc.

You have already looked at this kind of multiple meanings in your discussion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where the genitive form is able to express many different sorts of relations to a thing other than legal ownership, and the proper meaning is found in the wider context.

You probably should mention how Australian free hold land title is different from U.S. freehold land title — this is due to all Australian land being ultimately Crown Land and the final ownership ultimately residing in the Crown in legal theory. I went to the trouble of going to the law library to look into this, if you want some legal references.

I have not looked up to see how all the land in Australia being ultimately Crown Land may be altered by the Mabo case and native title — I expect that this sort of thing is where you see how customary law affects and constrains what the Crown is able to do, and also proceeding from that what the Parliament is able to do.

So when you talk about free hold land being able to “be used as the owner sees fit, and freely sold, rented out or otherwise disposed of” this is not correct due to all the land being ultimately Crown Land.

We see this in the Planning and Environment Act in Victoria (I have not read the Queensland equivalent) which constrains and regulates how the owners of free hold land title may develop and use the land.

5

Michael Duda 09.26.15 at 7:37 am

You write:

To finance increased expenditure on some goal or to reduce the taxes paid by one group, the government must find offsetting cuts in expenditure or increased taxes elsewhere, or else accept a larger deficit, incurring a debt that will have to be serviced in the future. The least unattractive of these options, as evidenced by the choices of policymakers, will constitute the opportunity cost of providing the benefit.

I’m not sure that this level of generality regarding “debt that will have to be serviced” is warranted. I think there are plenty of examples of public expenditures that have a calculable, clearly positive NPV, which are nevertheless rejected by many strains of conservative thought.

I’m thinking here of energy generation (dams) and use reduction (insulation/conservation) initiatives, public health measures that reduce long-term expenditures and improve earnings (numerous early childhood health & nutrition programs have shown ROIs far above market rates: see http://www.impact.upenn.edu/early-childhood-toolkit/why-invest/what-is-the-return-on-investment/), and probably even newer, less causally proven programs to increase broadband availability and therefore business growth.

I guess I’m referring to the general philosophical thread (like self-proclaimed libertarian Penn Jillette who wrote of Bernie Sanders on CNN: “He thinks central planning can solve problems and I think even if central planning could solve problems, I’m against it.” http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/11/opinions/jillette-presidential-candidate-videos/index.html

I don’t see you accounting for this financial all-upside sufficiently in the cited paragraph; “larger debt” seems to be burying the lede.

6

Ze K 09.26.15 at 8:42 am

Come to think of it, “income redistribution” is a weird concept. ‘Income’ is an accounting term, “increases in economic benefits during the accounting period”. Concentrating on income is a way to confuse the issue. As soon as I get the $10k, transferred by my employer, in my bank account – it instantly becomes my asset, my wealth, my property. And that’s what is (or should be) equalized: wealth. So, yeah, private property rights.

7

Chris Bertram 09.26.15 at 9:44 am

@John “In any society, people have views about what property rights are legitimate and, in particular, what they themselves are entitled to. These views may or may not match the property rights that actually prevail in that society.”

Do you intend “actually prevail” in a legal or a sociological sense?

8

Lee A. Arnold 09.26.15 at 9:49 am

John, you write,

“The evidence from macroeconomics is that, for the economy as a whole, resources are not always allocated on the basis of opportunity cost. Rather, there are long periods of recession and depression where productive resources sit idle, so that their OPPORTUNITY COST, in effect, IS ZERO.” (from the PDF; my caps)

and

“To finance increased expenditure on some goal or to reduce the taxes paid by one group, the government must find offsetting cuts in expenditure or increased taxes elsewhere, or else accept a larger deficit, incurring a debt that will have to be serviced in the future. The least unattractive of these options, as evidenced by the choices of policymakers, will CONSTITUTE the OPPORTUNITY COST of providing the benefit.” (my caps)

To the beginner’s mind these might contain a contradiction: To energize idle productive resources, as in the first case, would appear to require cuts, expenditures, or deficits, as in the second case.

How are 1. the mechanics of recession, 2. the distribution of income, and 3. the “starting positions” of individuals, to be distinguished from each other?

These things certainly are not well-distinguished from each other, in the minds of most citizens, nor even in the minds of most op-ed writers. Whom are you writing this for?

9

ZM 09.26.15 at 10:09 am

Other constraints on how owners of freehold title can use their land are regulations pertaining to the sale and rental of land and buildings, taxes and other duties on land and the sale thereof, the compulsory acquisition of land and buildings by the government, etc.

“Going even further back, property rights in land and in ordinary goods (chattels, in legal parlance) are mostly taken for granted, even though they are all derived, in the final analysis, from a socially-created legal framework.”

I think you would be better using the words “culturally constructed” here in place of “socially constructed” this is due to it fitting the classical idiom and anthropological idiom where culture versus nature as I think this is part of the legal and political discourse about natural law and natural rights.

I think the idea that all property rights are derived from a culturally created legal framework is disputable.

Firstly, this is because theoretically if you assert this position you will be obliged to accept some sort of theoretical orientation to social constructivism and ultimately relativism — which I think is going to be at odds with the normative prescriptions I expect you will advance in your book.

Secondly, historically if we go back that far into the Roman times which I understand to be when the basis of contemporary European and therefore colonial legal property regimes were developed — these being re-adopted in the Middle Ages after Roman laws fell into relative disuse in the Dark Ages — we see that there is quite a distinction between the idea of laws chosen by people and laws chosen in accordance to what is just — the idea of Justice was both abstract and a deity personified, which we still see in the decorations on our court buildings and the government logos etc. From my reading I have formed the opinion Roman law was a very orderly and categorical sort of thing and they had many categories for all different sorts of forms of ownership and possession and use of land and things.

Thirdly, you might want to discuss the natural law conception of property. This goes to conceptions of natural law in Rome — these being laws that were not culturally of one type of people — but were seen as widespread in all types of people. I believe this idea was taken by European natural law theorists — but of course with ethnographic evidence and the evidence given by indigenous peoples themselves we can see that what these natural law proponents proposed as being natural laws of property were not in fact common to all types of people at all like they ought to have been to be called “natural law” — and they just used this as a rhetorical device to steal other peoples’ land like in your example in previous excerpts of John Locke and the colonisation of North America.

We see with the Mabo decision that Indigenous people in Australia have legal rights of use in the lands they occupied — while on the one hand you could argue that the Mabo development was due to social change in Australia and not to do with what is right and just — I think you would be better off maintaining a consistent approach that laws relating to property should be in accordance with what is right and just.

10

Gareth Wilson 09.26.15 at 10:24 am

I’m not sure how relevant this is to the book, but chimpanzees do seem to recognise private property. A bigger, stronger chimp won’t steal food from a smaller, weaker chimp to the extent you’d expect. And of course other animals defend their own territories, and recognise the territories of others.

11

Metatone 09.26.15 at 10:35 am

Is there something missing from this (maybe a cut and paste problem?):

“”An example can be seen in the mass privatisations that followed the end of Communism in Russia and other countries in the former Soviet bloc., These processes greatly enriched a handful of oligarchs and greatly impoverished everyone else, leading to the loss of the little .””

12

ZM 09.26.15 at 11:34 am

From the OP: “Propertarians like Hazlitt want to pare back government to the minimum necessary to protect the property rights of which they approve. These include rights over land and houses, private sector financial assets and personal possessions. Other rights, currently enforced by government, should, in their view, be abolished.”

From the Dropbox chapter: “For many writers on economics, including Hazlitt, this is the beginning and end of the story. The conclusion they draw is that government action that takes society away from the market allocation can only be for the worse.”

I do not think this approach to private property and limited government is all that popular here in Australia — so it seems to me that you must be aiming for an international and perhaps predominantly U.S. readership if you are particularly wanting to argue against propertarianism in this book.

If that is the case, then I think it might be reasonable to discuss this approach overtly in the book since you are writing as an Australian, and perhaps you could give examples of where Australia differs from the U.S. in terms of normative concepts of property and government. I already gave the example of ultimate land ownership which differs as in the U.S. freeholders do ultimately own the land I understand, but also for example I saw Ross Garnaut talk a while ago and he said that Australia had implemented post 70s economic reforms that were more equitable than the equivalent reforms in the U.S.

I also hope somewhere in the book you might look at how equitable distribution might work within an economy characterised by a contraction in the use of material resources, in the case of presently high consumption economies. Today is the day the United Nations are adopting the Sustainable Development Goals, so if they are going to make the impact they are meant to then we the path of development should change now. And of course to maintain a safe climate there will need to be changes to the uses privately owned land is put to — such as retrofitting buildings, limitations on animal farming, and stopping the use of artificial fertilisers that produce nitrous oxide and so on.

13

jake the antisoshul soshulist 09.26.15 at 2:14 pm

I am curious about how the commons fit into this. Are all propertarians opposed to the
idea of the commons? There are some who seem to think that all property should be “private.” They certainly oppose any idea that “created wealth” should be considered part of the commons. We see this playing out most strongly in intellectual rights arguments and and discussions of taxing wealth.
I certainly don’t follow these discussions all that closely. What is the propertarian view of
how freehold land, etc. was transferred from the commons to private ownership? I do know they get offended when one claims it was stolen.

14

mdc 09.26.15 at 2:42 pm

“In societies without a formal state structure or legal system, these decisions may be made through custom or consensus. In modern societies they are made by governments and courts.”

Might it be worth mentioning that the allocations endorsed either by custom or law may have their source in violence? It could be difficult to settle to what extent sheer coercion or seizure themselves generate rights, but the brute facts of possession must have some extra-legal, extra-consensus origins, no?

15

steven johnson 09.26.15 at 3:15 pm

“, These processes greatly enriched a handful of oligarchs and greatly impoverished everyone else, leading to the loss of the little .”

Sentence fragment, needs a noun/noun phrase after the adjective “little.”

In discussing capitalist restoration, no matter how blatant the evidence for an overall decrease in human welfare, it is unacceptable to acknowledge this. Not even a sentence or two is useful to the goals of mainstream economics.

It is not clear how property rights connect to income redistribution. In your list of examples only B directly addresses property rights, which seems odd.

I think the argument you mean to confront is more or less the claims the state cannot violate the property rights of private persons without just cause and the only just cause is defense of property, along with the tacit assumption that private markets are just and economically optimal. I don’t see how you can argue against this effectively if you share the tacit assumption, which I expect you do or otherwise you’d be a socialist?

16

Plume 09.26.15 at 4:09 pm

John makes perhaps his greatest point, IMO, in saying how much we take for granted. And I’d imagine this is most true of Americans. That the existing set of private ownership is considered “natural,” and that people own what they should own, and that they own these things by dint of their personal virtue, hard work and intelligence. That their birth lottery meant nothing. Context meant nothing. History meant nothing.

In reality, where propertarians go so wrong — and, ironically, against their own ideas of “coercion” — is that all private ownership starts with violence. It all can be traced back to some violent conquest and its aftermath — organized or not. And legally protecting the fruits of violent conquest, class privilege, racial privilege, male privilege and so on can not be seen as anything but “coercion” in real terms and effects.

Mass amnesia prevents the recognition of this fact.

17

Plume 09.26.15 at 4:15 pm

And, of course, in America, all too many don’t get that if someone is rich, a lot of someones must be poor. The rich person gains their wealth through making many, many others poor, through the suppression of their wages, primarily, through squeezing them of as much unpaid labor as they possibly can, which is where they derive that wealth. Americans tend to think, strangely enough, that money multiplies itself, rather than its actual state of exchange. They don’t get that if person X adds more money, a whole lot of others must give it to them, thereby, obviously losing it.

And this is the case with property too. Every case of private property is also a case of exclusion. It can never be both/and. It is always, either/or. Either I own this or you do. We both can’t own this land, this house, and so on at the same time. As is the case with money. It can’t exist in the same wallet at the same time, though pretty much every propertarian or conservative completely misses this fact.

So what to do? Make the economy distribute and allocate compensation and wealth in as equal and equitable a manner as possible up front, so there is no need for the government to come in later and tweak this maldistribution a bit. As in, instead of having someone sit out in the sun for 12 hours, and tending to their lobster red skin later . . . . prevent the 12 hour burn session in the first place.

18

Plume 09.26.15 at 5:08 pm

From John’s rough draft:

The evidence from macroeconomics is that, for the economy as a
whole, resources are not always allocated on the basis of opportunity
cost. Rather, there are long periods of recession and depression where
productive resources sit idle, so that their opportunity cost, in effect,
is zero.

The inability of markets to resolve questions of distribution, and the
various forms of market failure form the basis of Lesson Two
Lesson 2: Market prices don’t reflect all the opportunity costs we face
as a society.

Not sure if he has addressed this elsewhere in the book, but I don’t think there is a case in the history of capitalism where/when “the markets” ever righted themselves after a recession or depression. It’s always been done by governments. Not that they have been free from errors in the process. They haven’t. But without government “intrusion,” there is no exit.

This is entirely logical. Recessions and depressions create downward spirals of job firings, major losses in demand, which create further job losses and more loss of demand. In that environment, there is no incentive for additional investment and hiring, at least not on a macro level. There isn’t enough profit to be made in that downward spiral of demand loss and job loss, again, at least not on the macro level. Governments are all that are left to to right the ship, if for no other reason than they can act without having to make profits or please stock owners and so on.

Propertarians refuse to acknowledge this essential role of government, and all too often speak about the wonders of our system as if recessions and depressions never occur.

Perhaps the first step toward proper allocation of wealth and resources is to finally admit that “the markets” have never worked properly, ever, and that when they reach a critical mass of failure, they have never been capable of “recovery” themselves. In short, they don’t work as advertised in good times or bad times, which is why, if we cling to the current system, it’s simply not possible that they will right their own ship with regard to income and wealth inequality, either. The people, through their government, must step in.

19

Bob M 09.26.15 at 5:08 pm

This seems like an excessively ahistorical view of property. To take a strong but common example, imagine a dictator invades a country and takes a lot of houses from wealthy members of an ethnic minority and distributes them to poor members of his minority. To make this simpler but still realistic, imagine those houses were on land that had been owned by those families for generations without alternative claimants, and that the houses had been built by the owners with wood felled from their own land.

Now suppose the dictator is defeated in battle three years later, and the new government proposes to redistribute the houses to their original owners. It’s strongly against our intuitions to say, “well, these homes are owned by these people now. They are poor, the former owners were rich, so this redistribution is not a good idea.”

We all believe that the historical chain of ownership matters – not to obviate the moral claims of property owners but instead to validate them.

20

MPAVictoria 09.26.15 at 6:01 pm

I like this piece on what a basic Welfare State should look like by Matt Brueig.

“Often, it’s said that welfare states are dizzyingly complicated. So many programs! Impossible to rationalize! But this isn’t necessarily true. You can make welfare systems that are bizarrely complicated, but laying out a basic welfare framework doesn’t have to be a byzantine affair.”

http://mattbruenig.com/2015/07/10/a-basic-welfare-framework/

This framework to redistribute income would serve to drastically reduce poverty and improve quality of life. It also would be simple to implement and not really that expensive. Of course opposition from Right Wingers would be intense. Bastards.

21

Plume 09.26.15 at 6:28 pm

A comment on language choice. Again, I think this applies especially to America, but may be widespread in other nations as well.

The term “income redistribution” is already problematic for many. Think of Joe the Plumber, in his initial encounter with Obama during his first campaign. For far too many Americans, the term implies theft of some sort. Usually, “theft from me, from my hard work, for those who don’t deserve it!!” And for these same people, it implies government theft. Only government theft.

In reality, the first sin of “redistribution” is always committed by the employer, against the employee. The employer “redistributes” a fraction of the wealth generated by the employee — back to them — after appropriating 100% of their production, their surplus value. He or she collects that revenue and then redistributes a pittance of that value back to the people who are responsible for creating it. No government “tax” can possibly come close to the massive deduction from a worker’s wages, up front, by the employer. In some industries, the worker produces enough for his or her day’s wages in their first hour, and from that time on is literally working for free.

When government comes along later and does something to offset this initial theft, this initial “redistribution,” it shouldn’t be called “income redistribution.” That already happened when the employer stole the collective production of the workforce and returned a small fraction of it back to them. And “income re-redistribution” is kinda clumsy. I’m not sure what the proper language should be for after-the-fact balancing should be, but I think “income redistribution” is far too loaded a term.

“Justice” seems far closer to the mark. But, again, I’d prefer that we didn’t allow the original sin in the first place.

22

mulp 09.26.15 at 6:48 pm

I’m with FDR in his 1935 State of the Union address which is written for the “common man”. But he’s consistent with Keynes in General Theory, esp ch 24.

The primary form of income redistribution is wage income, and if businesses won’t hire everyone, then government should hire them to build productive capital assets. Which given the private sector won’t hire them, the return on capital must be quite low because consumer demand is low because too many are not employed or paid enough to grow demand to increase GDP.

Economies are zero sum – the sum of consumer spending can not exceed the sum of wages. That means profits must pay workers or profits shrink the economy.

Locke also weighed in, viewing land as something that can’t be owned, but out of the near infinite common of the Americas, he imagined everyone could improve a spot of the common and through his work make it his own, as long as he kept putting labor into it to maintain the improvements. Once neglected, it returns to the common.

Locke did consider the possibility the common would run out and the hunter gatherers who lived off the common would put an end to carving out a chunk of common to improve. But We the Immigrants redistributed the land from Those the Natives because We the Immigrants came with guns.

Pope Francis basically says businesses are good because they pay workers. He objects as Keynes did to what Keynes called the “rentier capitalists” and “the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital”.

Rentier capitalists take the money out of the economy to create the unemployed, and in the process produce nothing of value. Uber is a rentier. They repeatedly state they are not providing transportation, but they take 20% of the gross you pay for transportation to someone else. They own no capital – they provide no transportation, something that requires capital.

Capital is labor time shifted. Property is labor time shifted. Debt is labor time shifted. Consumption equals labor.

Money is labor arrested, until is pays for labor directly or indirectly by consumer spending. (In the past decade or so, the velocity of money has declined as rentiers and monopolists try to accumulate “wealth” by not paying workers to build capital. They won’t build capital because that would end the monopoly and drive down monopoly profits.

Keynes calls the role of government to use whatever means it can to have labor paid to build so much capital that “though this state of affairs would be quite compatible with some measure of individualism, yet it would mean the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital.”

FDR focused on the wages paid for doing productive things to both allow men the dignity of supporting their families, but also creating something of lasting value whether the park shelter or the road of the scenic highway and lookouts which would repay the labor costs in the decades or centuries of service provided.

I would note that reducing taxes,both directly and indirectly cuts the building of capital and often forces decay and thus decrease in productive capital assets. The “gas tax” is greatly reduced in value for a number of reasons leading to a huge deficit in investment in productive capital assets which means a huge loss of wages for the nation. The inflation adjusted equivalent today to 1994 would be about the same 125% hike Reagan signed to save his failing presidency Jan 6, 1983: 40 cents per gallon. The number of jobs in construction, steel manufacturing and fabrication, equipment manufacturing related to transportation would more than double the month the tax hike was signed – the time to legislate would prime the economy and the day it was signed, investment and debt would immediately create the resources to build, and the State and local officials would issue bonds based on the certain revenue for starting projects immediately. And no one can argue that a 40 cent gas tax today followed by hikes to 50 and then 75 cents would be too harmful to the economy given the economy is not performing much better than when gas cost $1-2 more than it does today.

23

Stephen 09.26.15 at 6:55 pm

Going back to basics: one assumption here is that redistribution is always from undeserving rich to deserving poor.

In the real world of occasional kleptocracies, it is sometimes from poor to rich. (I realise that Plume will insist that any employment of anybody, by by anybody, is a form of kleptocracy, but there you are.)

Outside kleptocracies, we should perhaps ask: how far does redistribution benefit the undeserving poor? If there are none such, how is that to be shown? How far does redistribution transfer resources from the not-particularly-undeserving not-rich-not poor to the poor?

24

DrDick 09.26.15 at 7:05 pm

Speaking as a cultural anthropologist interested in political economy, I have to agree with this. Property rights, as we understand them today, are generally a product of the state. In nonstate societies there are primarily lesser kinds of property rights, on which others have legitimate claims of various sorts, and which apply only to personal possessions. There are a few exceptions found among strongly stratified sedentary intensive collectors, but there property rights are accompanied by compulsory generosity and sharing.

25

LFC 09.26.15 at 8:48 pm

Plume @17

Every case of private property is also a case of exclusion. It can never be both/and. It is always, either/or. Either I own this or you do. We both can’t own this land, this house, and so on at the same time. As is the case with money. It can’t exist in the same wallet at the same time, though pretty much every propertarian or conservative completely misses this fact.

One difference, though, is that there is a roughly fixed amount of privately-owned land in a country, but there is not a fixed amount of money over time. Government controls the money supply and it can print more (or ‘create’ more electronically, amounting to the same thing) within certain limits imposed by the need to avoid excessive inflation (not a a big problem right now in most developed economies, at least not in the U.S.). I know you want to get to certain political conclusions, but treating money as a permanently fixed quantity, such that every five-dollar bill in my wallet is a five-dollar bill not in your wallet, is somewhat misleading, istm. It’s true that at any given moment there is a certain fixed amount of cash in circulation, but that amount changes whenever the govt decides to adjust the money supply. (‘Quantitative easing’, when the Fed bought tons of US Treasury bonds etc. every month, had a similar effect, though I don’t pretend to understand it at any granular level of detail.)

26

John Quiggin 09.26.15 at 8:51 pm

Stephen @23 On the contrary, as you can see from the examples given, I look at plenty of examples of redistribution from the poor to the rich, and don’t talk about deservingness at all.

27

LFC 09.26.15 at 9:12 pm

Stephen @23
one assumption here is that redistribution is always from undeserving rich to deserving poor

I think the assumption is rather that the whole notion of ‘deservingness’ is an archaic idea that is basically invalid; to bring it back is to resurrect wrong and discredited ideas about poverty.

I was reminded in reading something a couple of months ago that under the 1834 New Poor Law, which controlled provision for the poor in Britain for almost a century, govt. cash support to poor women with children was ruled out b.c it was thought to be ‘demoralizing’ or ‘pauperizing’ (whatever that meant exactly). If a male wage-earner died leaving a widow unable to support her children, the family was usu. split up and the children were removed from her custody to an orphanage school (even though they weren’t orphaned). Behind this policy was the notion that poverty is an individual failing, that if someone is poor it’s b.c. of his/her character flaws, that anyone who works hard can ‘succeed’ regardless of social and economic circumstances etc. and that govt therefore shd not provide even minimal support. The rhetoric of ‘deservingness’ is linked to this worldview.

28

DrDick 09.26.15 at 10:01 pm

Stephen @23

Going back to basics: one assumption here is that redistribution is always from undeserving rich to deserving poor.

There is no objective criteria by which anybody “deserves” to be wealthy. The meme of the “undeserving” poor demonstrates complete ignorance of the realities of poverty and its impacts (social, psychological, and biological) on the poor. That you even bring it up discredits you.

29

Plume 09.26.15 at 10:37 pm

LFC @25,

I don’t mean to suggest that money is “finite” in the sense that supply is never increased. Obviously it does increase, per the government’s decree. But given the level of concentration of money, additional dollars seldom flow toward the bottom 99% – 90%, and in recent times, never below that level. When the richest 1% pushes past the 50% mark of total wealth control, as it will next year, holding more wealth than the bottom 99% combined, it’s not really much of a consolation to talk in terms of overall increased money supply.

But more importantly: On the level of wages, it is finite. It is zero sum. Because individual businesses don’t increase their payroll allocations simply because the government sends more money into the river of the economy. On the individual business level, where the vast majority of us receive our paychecks, an addition for executives and shareholders means a corresponding subtraction for the rank and file — if not in the immediate sense, then a loss of a potential raise. It has to work that way, unless that company borrows the money from somewhere else, in which case that, too, is lost to a different business/workforce. You can’t go beyond 100% of something at that level, at the business or corporate level.

Again, the government can arbitrarily (or desperately) increase the money flow, but that doesn’t change any individual payroll accounts. For individual Americans, it’s meaningless if the government mainlines 16 trillion dollars into the economy. That actually happened in 2009-2010, and rank and file wages didn’t go up at all.

30

Plume 09.26.15 at 10:48 pm

Stephen @23,

If employers paid fair wages to begin with, the government wouldn’t have to “re-redistribute” anything. There wouldn’t be any issue of “deserving,” either, as JQ mentions. But they don’t. Again, they never have. By design they pay a fraction of what earners have themselves produced. That is the way executives and ownership derive their own compensation — from the difference. If they ever paid fair wages to the workforce, they could never accrue large personal fortunes themselves. It would be mathematically impossible. They would recoup their initial capital and then be paid for their own input, which would never rise much beyond the rank and file pay — if wages were fair or just. It is only because our system allows the fiction of one human being owning other human beings, owning their production, deciding what their time is worth, without anything more than a purely fictitious basis, that we do see millionaires and billionaires. They would be impossible without those fictional foundations, which no sane society should ever have accepted, ever.

The only people who have reason to accept them are the tiny fraction of humans who actually do own businesses or make money off money. A good 90% of the population, therefore, should reject this set of fictions and choose others — fictions that benefit 100% of the population, rather than the 1% and its maintenance class.

31

Plume 09.26.15 at 10:53 pm

Question, JQ:

Do you ever look at the “redistribution” that follows any top down process? Isn’t it logical to assume that pretty much all top down money flow goes right back up again, so that government re-redistribution to the poor and the working class pretty much always ends up back at the top?

I don’t see many economists discuss this, but it seems pretty obvious to me. Where do the poor and the working poor spend their money? Even in the form of food stamps and so on? If they’re buying food at Walmart, for example, that becomes government subsidies for a family which currently holds more wealth than the bottom 40% of the nation combined.

I’d be interested in reading your take on that, one where the money winds up, who benefits, etc. etc.

32

Plume 09.26.15 at 11:18 pm

LFC,

Maybe a better way to put this: If a business owner wants to make X amount from his or her business, they can only afford to pay their workforce Y amount. If they pay them Y+, they can only make X- for themselves. Y++, they make X- – and so on. Unless they borrow and go outside of the normal revenue generation from that business.

The collective workforce in that company generates 1 million. Ownership wants 250K for itself. They can’t pay the workforce more than 750K, or they don’t get what they want — again, outside of borrowing or some other source (which has to be paid back). If they want to keep 300K from that total, they have to reduce payroll and so on. It’s zero sum, by definition, and the amount of extra dollars printed by the government doesn’t alter that, on that level, etc.

33

LFC 09.26.15 at 11:37 pm

Plume,
I agree w the pt at @32.

34

Sebastian H 09.27.15 at 12:29 am

I’d push back on the deserving wealthy. People who provide a lot of something good for a lot of people really do deserve to be wealthy to some degree. The problem is that ‘to some degree’ isn’t the same as ‘ to any degree they can get away with’, and that the number of wealthy who really are deservedly wealthy in that sense is very low compared to those who aren’t.

35

Plume 09.27.15 at 1:00 am

I build a chair with my own two hands. I sweat over the work. I pour my time, my skills, my efforts into building the best chair I can, and then I sell that chair directly to others. I’m paid for my efforts — my direct efforts. This is good and just. If a person does this and becomes “wealthy” in the process, given our current system, given our current way of doing things, this is about as close to “deserving” as we can get in the modern world.

However, if a person pays others to do that work, the same work they’d do if they built their own chairs, on their own, and that person becomes wealthy on their labor, not his or hers, then, no. It’s never, ever going to be “deserving.” Because it means they must pay each individual worker far, far less than they pay themselves for not building any chairs at all — or far less than they’d take if they did this on their own. They pay themselves from the revenues generated by their workforce, which they’ve stolen as if they had done the work themselves. They don’t “deserve” to get rich off the sweat and tears of others. They don’t deserve to get rich by generating as much unpaid labor as they can to accrue that wealth.

The first case is not “capitalism.” The second is. No capitalist can possibly be “deserving” of their wealth. They didn’t make it happen on their own. They made it happen by collecting the labor value of their workforce and arbitrarily, selfishly, wrongfully, appropriating it and keeping the lion’s share for themselves. And governments all around the globe support this, buttress this, protect this and make the capitalist even richer by externalizing most of his or her business costs, making tax payers pay for that. So the capitalist not only is undeserving of the wealth they strip from their workforce; they are undeserving of the wealth they strip from taxpayers. Throw in all the inherited wealth, directly, indirectly, the white, male, Christian privilege, the blood money from empire, conquest, slavery and so on . . . . and “deserving” is about the last word that should apply here.

36

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 1:18 am

‘Deservingness’ is a popular criterion for judging the appropriate allocation of property rights. There are some good points to be made in its favor, and some good points against. It’s going to produce an outcome very different from that of unconstrained market processes, which is why Hayek (for example) was so strongly opposed to it. Hayek was smart enough to recognise that the kind of propaganda that defends the market distribution of income in terms of deservingness can not stand up to scrutiny.

An allocation with ‘deservingness’ as a key criterion (and standard intuitions about who deserves what) tends to imply
(i) high inheritance taxes
(ii) more rights for labor and less for capital
(jji) a distinction between ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor
(iv) lots of concern about equality of opportunity, less about equality of income.

So, a serious discussion of deservingness reinforces the point that property rights are socially constructed.

37

Plume 09.27.15 at 2:01 am

JQ @36,

Well said. Not to spin things out even further, but “equality of opportunity” is yet another loaded, endlessly misapplied term. It’s usually used as a counter to “equality of income,” and often by liberals who don’t want to be accused of being too far to the left.

. . . But also by conservatives who actually believe that a system drowning in inequality already provides this, that America always has. It’s just the “undeserving” poor who are too lazy to take advantage of all this supposed incredible opportunity.

As in, “We’re for equal opportunity, not equal results.” Uh, not really. Deep, persistent structural inequality of access blocks this, and that’s pretty obvious. Massive divergence in the quality of education, health care, nutrition, cultural venues, fitness, transport, networking, contacts, not to mention cash, etc. etc. . . . . render that “equality” impossible to achieve. And all too often it seems to be a matter of faith that it’s an already existing reality.

So, to me, equality of access is the most important change we need to make. And because America has such monstrous gaps in wealth and income, the only way to even up access (even a little) is to remove the barrier of price. The only way to open the essentials up to everyone is to remove the cost, make these things free, let everyone through the door without needing to open up their tattered wallet.

We can’t provide equality of opportunity, given existing class differences. But we can provide equality of access to key essentials . . . . thus leveling the playing field significantly. And we then get to say, so as to prevent the usual red-scare/hysteria . . . . We’re not talking equal results. We’re talking equal access.

38

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 2:27 am

Bob M @ 19. I have to say you have more confidence in “our intuitions” than I do. What if the three years were, instead 40 years (there are some obvious historical examples that are relevant). What about beneficiaries of the redistribution who had made great improvements to the property they received. And whatever the intervening period, what about people who had bought the properties in question, in good faith, from the beneficiares of the dictators’ largesse? Do you think “we” have a clear intuition about all these cases?

As this extension of your example shows, you are reaffirming the central point of the OP, that legal property rights may or may not correspond to people’s beliefs about what they legitimately own, and that people may (almost certainly will) disagree about the legitimacy of these claims.

39

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 2:37 am

Chris @7 I meant “actually prevail” in a legal sense. But I’m a positivist in these matters, so I don’t think there is mcuh conflict between legal and sociological senses of the term. If I hold a piece of land or capital or some other item of value, and can use it as I please, without anyone being able to stop me, than I would say that my property right over that item actually prevails, over any claim that others might make. That’s true, even if the claim is inconsistent with some reading of the law or with a putative social norm (or both, though it seems unlikely I could sustain my claim in that case).

40

UserGoogol 09.27.15 at 2:57 am

Plume: There is no act which is absolutely an individual creation. Making a chair relies on all sorts of existing resources and prior work. You need wood, you need tools, and you need the general idea of what a chair is supposed to actually be like. You are simply the final step in an elaborate chain of events which ends up with a chair. All of those previous steps might be entitled to some share in what you produced. If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

So saying the worker is entitled to what they create flagrantly begs the question. Creation is inherently a social phenomenon. That doesn’t mean business owners are a part of society which deserve the cut they currently get, but the idea that workers deserve what they make by default is just taking bad libertarian arguments and twisting it around to make bad pro-worker argument instead.

41

Plume 09.27.15 at 3:17 am

@40,

I fully realize that a sole proprietor, craftsman, artisan, etc. is also a link in a long chain, surrounding by a host of others who contribute as well — as well as a society, spatially, through time, etc.. However, he or she has no employees to set wages for. He or she can only set their own valuation. He or she can’t control the previous links in that long chain, but they can control their own valuation of their own time — at least in a relative sense.

An employer, on the other hand, sets wages and time valuations for others, and gains directly from keeping them as low as possible. He or she makes more money by paying them less than they’re worth. He or she can’t make their fortune if they pay them as much as they’ve contributed to the company. It’s mathematically impossible.

That same dynamic does not exist with the maker of the chair.

And why do you think it’s a bad argument to say a worker deserves to be paid for their own work? Value for value? How is that a bad argument? I think it’s self-evidently the case that they do. If they are in a collective setting, and various other costs are included (overhead, in general), then this assumes the owner subtracts those costs and then pays the worker for their labor. Subtracts what the owner actually invests, but not a recurring rent that goes beyond that investment.

It’s not a bad argument at all. It simply counters the fiction we’ve all grown up with. That someone can actually own another human being, their work, dictate how much their time is worth, and that the worker must sell their labor at a major discount . . . in order to have a job under the capitalist mode of production. I’m saying the worker should never have to sell at a discount, ever, and that ownership should never be compensated through the accumulation of those discounts.

Can you demonstrate why this is a “bad argument,” rather than merely asserting that it is?

42

Plume 09.27.15 at 3:30 am

In short, in the capitalist system, the worker sells their labor at a major discount, or they don’t get a job. It doesn’t work any other way. The owner or exec makes their compensation by collecting those discounts. They make far more than they should, for their own individual input, because the worker makes far less than he or she should.

Not only is this immoral, it’s unnecessary. Anything that is produced under this system can be produced under one that eliminates that labor discount and becomes non-profit. You would no longer have millionaires or billionaires, but you could produce anything currently being done. And no society actually has ever needed millionaires or billionaires. They want us to believe we do. But it’s pure fiction, not reality.

Not that we should want to produce as much, of course. Not that this is sustainable from an environmental standpoint. But we could.

43

Peter T 09.27.15 at 3:42 am

“If I hold a piece of land or capital or some other item of value, and can use it as I please, without anyone being able to stop me, than I would say that my property right over that item actually prevails, over any claim that others might make.”

There are very few such items. Almost all socially-significant property is a bundle of rights and obligations, reinforced, weakened or negated by constant reiteration and negotiation, mediated by various institutional processes. Which is a restatement of your point, but directing attention to the ongoing politics behind all property.

44

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 3:44 am

@43 Agreed.

45

LFC 09.27.15 at 4:02 am

Given the way it was deployed historically, the distinction between the “deserving” and the “undeserving” poor is so drenched in hypocrisy, unctuousness, bad faith, pompous moralizing, and blame-the-victim sermonizing that to try to consider it as some kind of neutral, analytic sort of distributive criterion is hopeless. The phrases “deserving poor” and “undeserving poor” are too wrapped in retrograde historical associations, summoning up as they do a whole library of tracts, pamphlets, articles, and books full of social-Darwinist, laissez-faire crap, to be rehabilitated. Even if some kind of case cd made for their rehabilitation, and I don’t think it can.

No one deserves to be deprived of minimally decent conditions of existence, as those conditions are defined by reasonable and in some cases evolving societal standards. When the UN this week adopted the new set of goals on poverty (the Millennium Development Goals having ‘expired’), the member states didn’t say they were going to work to eliminate the extreme poverty only of the “deserving” poor. If a rep of a UN member state had proposed such a criterion, he or she wd have been laughed out of the hall.

46

Ze K 09.27.15 at 10:16 am

It’s the main attraction of pure libertarian vision that ‘deserve’ is embedded into the system; whatever the outcome, that’s what everyone deserves, by definition. I imagine, any other concept has to deal with the free rider problem.

47

LFC 09.27.15 at 11:42 am

@46
any other concept has to deal with the free rider problem.

The free rider problem as usu. defined involves X benefiting from a good or service, typically one available to all or to a large group, that he or she does not contribute to paying the cost of. It really has no application here. In U.S. politics, some conservatives sometimes stigmatized welfare recipients as “freeloaders”; that particular phrase is not heard much any more, I think, though the sentiment is still expressed in other ways. But in this context, as long as one is filing a tax return one isn’t a free rider; if one’s income is low enough that one doesn’t owe taxes (or, in the U.S., low enough that one qualifies for the earned-income tax credit), there’s also no free riding.

48

Chris Bertram 09.27.15 at 12:50 pm

For reasons we’ve rehearsed before, I’m sceptical about the “it’s all conventional/social/political, all the way down” line. A lot that has to do the property rights *is* conventional, but the conventions become insupportable if they don’t shape themselves around some strong convictions that people have.

If a government changes the law to dispossess someone (a kulak, or an indigenous people, say) and the victim says “the government stole my/our land!”, they are uttering a proposition that is, on the “government decides what property is” view, strictly nonsensical. But we all understand that they mean to express the sentiment that they have been unjustly deprived of what they had a moral right to. And I think they may very well be correct.

49

DrDick 09.27.15 at 1:39 pm

Sebastian H @ 34

But they do not actually produce much of anything all by themselves. They rely on the labor and services of many other people who actually contribute at least as much and often far more than the capitalist. As such, they have an equal claim to the rewards.

50

Plume 09.27.15 at 1:44 pm

LFC @47,

The right uses the meme “free stuff” now. Jeb Bush has resurrected it recently, following Romney’s example of the “47%”. Romney said, straight out, that Obama won by giving away “free stuff” to that 47%, and Bush refined it a bit to direct it particularly at African Americans. A twist on that is the old timey Republican tactic of calling blacks who vote for Democrats “dependent on government” . . . . with some of the less cautious conservatives talking about plantations and such. All too often, black conservatives try to make this analogy. That for blacks to be truly free of the plantation, they have to vote for the GOP.

Ugly, ugly politics.

In reality, no one in America receives more “free stuff” than the very rich, both directly and indirectly. And it’s not at all close.

51

ZM 09.27.15 at 1:48 pm

Chris Bertram,

We had the 1992 Mabo High Court case here in Australia about that. Eddie Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander who fought for land rights for many years. The High Court found that indigenous people had Native Title rights to the land they had occupied, if they could demonstrate an enduring connection to that land in court.

It is quite an interesting case I think, even for people in other countries. This is a basic summary, but other people might know more. It is quite relevant for John Quiggin’s book when it discusses territory and property and so on.

The ideas of people like Hobbes and Locke about indigenous people living int he state of nature held sway during the invasion/settlement of Australia by the UK.

Of course as philosophy does not govern what is allowed, the legal doctrine to allow the settlement was called Terra Nullius — land that belongs to no one. This legal doctrine is what allowed the British Empire to legally settle Australia . England did not come up with the legal doctrine of Terra Nullius itself, it was one of the laws it took from Roman jurisprudence.

By the time of the Mabo case there was a great amount of evidence that contra to this declaration of Terra Nullius the indigenous peoples of Australia and the Torres Strait Islands did have cultures of their own rather than living in the state of nature, and also evidence about their relationship to land which was divided into areas occupied by different language groups.

So the High Court found that the doctrine of Terra Nullius was wrongly applied in the settlement of Australia.

Subsequently the Parliament passed the Native Title Act to regulate claims to land.

Native title gives “the right to live on the land; access the area for traditional purposes; visit and protect important places and sites; hunt, fish or gather traditional food or resources on the land; or teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander laws and customs on the land. In some cases, native title can include the right to own and occupy an area of land or water to the exclusion of all others.”

This is not without its problems. In Victoria we had the case of the Yorta Yorta people who were denied Native Title since the court found they could not demonstrate an enduring connection to the land. This was very unfair of the court considering the colonial government rounded indigenous people up and sent them to live in protectorates and later tried to force indigenous people to assimilate and stole children if they spoke in their mother tongue and so on.

So, as you can see Chris Bertram, even from my brief summary, it is inaccurate to say that “the government decides what property is” because if it was left to the government the Mabo case would not have succeeded.

This is the benefit of us inheriting so many laws from England which borrowed some from Rome — our governments have a whole lot of laws they have to abide by too and if people go to the bother they can take the government to court when they fail to abide by the laws.

In Australia the High Court oversees the government, thanks the foresight of the founding fathers of our federation — whereas I think that your Parliament in the UK does not have oversight by a high court — being that I understand your high court is part of the Parliament itself and the Blair government also sneakily abolished the high office of the Lord Chancellor and the Queen never dismisses a government for you either, leaving you with a Prime Minister who is like an absolute monarch except for having to be elected and also the EU which you are fortunate to be in to stop your Prime Minister since nothing else can.

52

Layman 09.27.15 at 3:18 pm

Plume @ 41

“I’m saying the worker should never have to sell at a discount, ever, and that ownership should never be compensated through the accumulation of those discounts.”

Your solitary craftsman sets a price for the chairs he makes. That price includes his material costs (wood, cane or rushes, wastage, etc), his infrastructure costs (workshop, tools, etc), and his operating costs (lighting, power, etc).

Then there is the price of his skill and labor. These are of course much harder to quantify – what are they worth, and how is that determined? The market answer is, of course, what people will pay. But accepting that answer means he will sometimes sell at a discount, and sometimes sell at a premium, because surely the demand for his chairs will vary over time. What if everyone within his easy reach has bought chairs; now what? Or, alternatively, what if the harvest was poor, and the farmer has decided to sit on the floor or on boxes for a while, until she can afford the price of a chair? On the other hand, what if the community has decided to open a new school, and they need many chairs?

So if you use the market to determine the value of the chairmaker’s labor, it will sometimes be discounted. There is no owner here pocketing that discount, but someone else is surely pocketing it. And, sometimes, the chairmaker is pocketing a premium, an unreasonable profit he can extract from his customers because of a market condition unrelated to the value of his labor.

If you want to achieve your goal, then the price of the chair must be set some other way. What is that way?

53

Plume 09.27.15 at 4:47 pm

Layman @52,

As mentioned before, I see “the markets” as a totally arbitrary construct, that, over time, seem to operate according to a real set of rules. They actually don’t. It’s really all a fiction. Or, as Marianne Moore said, imaginary gardens with real toads in them.

But within this fiction, something very real does happen. A very tiny percentage of the population sets those fictional rules that everyone else has to live by. They decide how much our times is valued. They decide whether or not we have jobs. They decide for us to ship them overseas, etc. etc. Again, I find this immoral and it’s resulted in what anyone could have predicted at the outset:

The benefits of this fiction accrue to that tiny percentage.

Logically, a better fiction, a better social construction, is to bring in the entire population to set those fictional rules. All of us, together. Let our imaginary gardens with real toads in them be built by 100% of the population, rather than 1% or less than 1%.

In short, we, as an actual democracy, including the economy for the first time in history, would set prices and wages together — for everyone’s benefit.

I know this isn’t a popular idea, even among “liberals,” but I think the economy should function for no other reason than to make sure everyone has what they need, at least. For starters. I don’t think its raison d’etre should be what it is now: the vehicle used to obtain great personal wealth, no matter the costs to others or the earth. IMO, this is a fiction we’ve grown used to, and all too many assume it’s some “naturally” derived and logical process. It’s not. It’s absolutely arbitrary, fictional and can be replaced.

Btw, just finished the intro to what already seems a great and important book: Steve Fraser’s The Age of Acquiescence. I wish CT would try to organize a book forum on it . . . . He makes the point in the intro that even in America we used to fight against this tide. We don’t anymore, with rare exceptions.

54

Plume 09.27.15 at 4:49 pm

how much our time is valued . . . .

55

Layman 09.27.15 at 5:04 pm

Plume @ 53 “In short, we, as an actual democracy, including the economy for the first time in history, would set prices and wages together…”

This not an entirely clear answer, but I take to mean our chairmaker doesn’t determine the value of his own labor; that value is instead determined by the majority in some fashion. This being the case, because chairs are not in constant demand, there will be times when the maker can’t sell any chairs at all at the standard price. Now what? Can the chairmaker opt to sell chairs below the established price – so that there will at least be some compensation for his labor?

Alternatively, if the demand for chairs exceeds his capacity to make them, what happens? Can he recruit more chairmakers? Teach them to make chairs? Loan them the use of his tools and workshop? Or, more to the point, charge a fee for these services?

56

Plume 09.27.15 at 5:31 pm

Layman @55,

There is a massive difference between using my example in the context of our current system, and the one I and other leftists envision. In these discussions, I’m forced to wear a lot of hats and switch them, when the context changes.

But if we’re talking about the new system, the chairmaker makes the same amount no matter how many chairs she sells. He is on salary, as is everyone who works. They’re paid a set wage per hour. No funds for their wages come from any sales, anywhere in that economy. The link between sales and compensation is absolutely, 100% gone and forgotten.

As for teaching these skills. If you recall, a radical shift toward teaching crafts, artisanship, trades, even ancient arts and crafts, would be vigorously, aggressively taken. All education, from cradle to grave, would be free, through PHD levels, through “master craftsman” levels, etc. etc. It would be the norm to teach this, so everyone could self-provision if they chose to, at least where it was feasible, and fix what they and others made . . . . and so everyone would have at least the basic understanding of arts and crafts, engineering, architecture, mechanics, etc. Cross-training, holistic skills training, Big Picture training, would be the norm. Again, see the Paris Commune of 1871 and the ideas of Elisee Reclus, William Morris and Pietr Kropotkin . . . . and update these to 2015 and beyond.

They key here is this: We currently organize society around the personal desires of the few (for wealth and power), and have acquiesced to the fiction that the few will trickle down their beneficence on the many. In the modern world, this likely goes back to Adam Smith, the first trickle down philosopher. Anyone with open eyes knows this has never and will never happen. Logically, society should instead organize around the needs of the entire citizenry, putting them first and foremost, and ending the dependence and the silly faith that any ruling class/financial elite will toss a few crumbs our way if we go along.

To me, I honestly can’t see why we even have to have this debate. It just strikes me as entirely self-evident that since the economy impacts all of us, dramatically, it’s actually insane to leave it up to a few people whose best interests conflict with ours. To give up our autonomy to them, under the fictional guise of “the markets,” especially, just strikes me as truly mad.

57

Layman 09.27.15 at 7:02 pm

“To me, I honestly can’t see why we even have to have this debate.”

If you’ll forgive me the honesty, it’s because you don’t bother to describe your solutions very clearly.

Originally, you wrote:

“I build a chair with my own two hands. I sweat over the work. I pour my time, my skills, my efforts into building the best chair I can, and then I sell that chair directly to others. I’m paid for my efforts — my direct efforts.”

And speaking of such chairmakers, you said:

“He or she can only set their own valuation. He or she can’t control the previous links in that long chain, but they can control their own valuation of their own time — at least in a relative sense.”

I think you can understand why I took this to mean that the chairmaker is the one who sets the price for her or his labor.

Then you wrote:

“I’m saying the worker should never have to sell at a discount, ever, and that ownership should never be compensated through the accumulation of those discounts.”

…which let me to ask questions about the obvious circumstances where the chairmaker might choose to cut his price, and make the obvious point that the discount is still being ‘taken’ by someone else, in this case the consumer.

But it turns out now that what you really mean is the worker doesn’t set the price of his or her labor at all. That price is set by the community, which is essentially taking the place of the capitalist. If the chairmaker and the community disagree on the value of chair making, the community can set a price which amounts to a discount in the chairmaker’s view – after all, they all need chairs, and chairs can be expensive! – and the only thing the chairmaker can do is sell at at that discounted price, or refuse to make chairs. Now you’re back to the original problem. How is your world improved if the chairmaker’s labor is exploited by the community rather than by the capitalist?

58

Plume 09.27.15 at 7:30 pm

Layman @57,

I explained why the examples appear to be different. A changed context. The chairmaker in our current capitalist system. And the way everyone’s labor works out in the new alternative.

Again, the chairmaker is paid a salary, like everyone else. He or she grew up with this as the norm. He or she knows this before hand, before he or she decides to become a chairmaker. He or she is just as at home with this idea as workers in our current setup are at home with the capitalist mode. And he or she has already had plenty of education and training to choose another profession if they want to. That education and training is free for everyone, from cradle to grave. Anything anyone wants to learn, they can, for free.

And their labor is not exploited. No one is getting rich off of the chairmaker’s sweat and tears. No one. He or she makes chairs to satisfy the needs to the community, if that’s what they want to do. No one creates a business to get rich. It’s not legal. No production is done for that purpose. Everything is citizen-centric, rather than business-owner-centric. The entire society is organized around the needs of the entire society, instead of the selfish desires of a few to accumulate vast wealth for themselves. New production is never created in order to drive personal wealth. It is created in order to fulfill a need. Use value. No more exchange value.

We went through this before. You continue to think about this new alternative through the prism of capitalism. But it’s absolutely, 100% severed from capitalism. Its rules do not apply in any, way, shape or form in the new society. It’s as if the capitalist mode of production never existed on this planet. Think Star Trek and some distant planet. If you can’t think of it in those terms, there is really no point in us continuing to discuss this, and I’m guessing JQ and most of the people following this thread would be more than fine with that. They’d likely cheer, etc.

59

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 10:25 pm

@48 I don’t think there’s any contradiction between feeling justly aggrieved if the government unfairly confiscates your property and the fact that the property right in question was derived from society/government in the first place.

If, for example, I am induced to migrate to (or within) a country by a promise of an allocation of publicly-owned land (as has happened in plenty of historical cases) there can be no question but that the property in question was derived from the government (which in most cases expropriated some previous inhabitants to get hold of it, but that’s by the way). And, while I might complain if the government, acting constitutionally, subsequently increased land taxes or imposed environmental regulations, I wouldn’t have much legal or moral ground . On the other hand, I could and would object to my land being confiscated because the government didn’t like me.

60

Layman 09.27.15 at 10:26 pm

Plume, it could be that I can’t stop thinking about capitalism when I consider what you say. I don’t think that’s the case, but we should all consider that we’re not objective. That includes you, though, so you should consider the possibility that you’re so enraptured by your vision that you can’t see that your explanations of it are not at all clear to others. It’s certainly possible, isn’t it?

Yet I take your statements at face value, and ask you questions to try to make sense of them. You, on the other hand, don’t take my questions at face value; instead, you simply dismiss them, as irrelevant artifacts of my obvious (to you) bias.

Someone mentioned Red Plenty last time around, and I think it’s appropriate. It seems to me that you’re trying to articulate a system which simulates what markets do, without actually having the markets or the market abuses. This strikes me as quite hard to do, and if you want to convince me that you know how to do it, then you should get on with the convincing part.

(I’ll remind you one more time that I’m not your free-market nemesis. I’d regulate the hell out of capitalists and their markets.)

61

John Quiggin 09.27.15 at 10:28 pm

@48 More to the point, this is just as true of the broader set of entitlements I describe as it is of the things a propertarian would want to call “property”. A Tory government cutting housing benefits is doing the same kind of thing as a (hypothetical) leftwing Labour government nationalising industry. Whether we approve of one or the other ought to depend on the consequences for those affected, not on some concept of property rights.

62

Layman 09.27.15 at 10:56 pm

” A Tory government cutting housing benefits is doing the same kind of thing as a (hypothetical) leftwing Labour government nationalising industry.”

This is a point which doesn’t get much credit, probably because of the notions about what is ‘deserved’. Owners of industry believe they ‘deserve’ their property, because (they say) they earned it; on the other hand, they don’t see recipients of housing benefits – or food stamps and unemployment benefits – as ‘deserving’ of those things because (they say) those people did nothing to earn them.

I suspect that even many leftists, at least in the U.S., would stop short of saying anyone ‘deserves’ poverty assistance. They would agree they ‘need’ it, but not that they ‘deserve’ it. So, there’s some work to be done to expand people’s notions of basic human rights…

63

ZM 09.27.15 at 11:03 pm

John Quiggin,

Provisions for the welfare of the public are not necessarily either entitlements and probably not “property” in law I think. This is as I suspect the duty of making provisions for the welfare of the public is a trust held by the government rather than a property of the public.

You might say this is much of a muchness, but it isn’t.

This is as property can be sold or given up etc – trusts cannot. Also because the Trust comes from the Medieval “Use” – I had never heard of the Use until I saw Chief Justice French talk on the topic earlier this year. Anyway, the pertinent bit is that when you have a Use the feoffer has a duty to the feofee but the feofee has no such duty to the feoffer. So this is why the government is obligated to provide for the welfare of the public whether they are “deserving” or not, since the public is the feoffee and the government is the feoffer.

64

bob mcmanus 09.27.15 at 11:08 pm

Plume, stop arguing outcomes with the bourgeois. You will lose.

Alberto Toscano Cartographies of the Absolute

For it is perhaps increasingly the case that those theories which underscore the character of capital as abstract domination are also those which regard
communism as a movement of negation that cannot be crystallised into any images or mediations. Thus we read, in a recent article on communisation:

We don’t know, we cannot know, and therefore we do not seek to concretely describe, what communism will be like. We only know how it will be in the negative, through the abolition of capitalist social forms. Communism is a world without money, without value, without the state, without social classes, without domination and without hierarchy, … If we cannot foresee and decide how the concrete forms of communism will be, the reason is that social relations do not arise fully fledged from a unique brain, however brilliant, but can only be the result of a massive and generalised social practice. It is this practice that we call communisation. Communisation is not an aim, it is not a project. It is nothing else than a path.

But in communism the goal is the path, the means is the end.

Leon de Mattis

65

ZM 09.27.15 at 11:13 pm

Or maybe I got the feoffer and feoffee around the wrong way. The feofee is like the trustee who has the duty to the feoffer who is the beneficiary of the trust. So the government is the feoffee or trustee and the public is the feoffer or beneficiary.

66

Layman 09.27.15 at 11:18 pm

“Communism is a world without money, without value, without the state, without social classes, without domination and without hierarchy”

Hmm. Can it be that money is such a marvelously useful concept, that if it hadn’t already existed, mankind would have been forced to invent it.

67

Tyrone Slothrop 09.28.15 at 1:13 am

“Communism is a world without money, without value, without the state, without social classes, without domination and without hierarchy”

Without humans too, apparently…

68

Plume 09.28.15 at 1:30 am

@67,

On the contrary. It would be a world in which humanity could be most fully expressed, for the first time in history. For the first time in history, we would not be subjects of kings, queens, theocrats, states, corporations or cartels. No gods, no masters. It’s the emancipation of human potential, no longer constrained by artificial barriers and birth lotteries.

But, as Bob points out, and as thinkers such as Zizek and Badiou have as well, it is a pathway and a horizon to reach, not something we’ve seen in the modern world — at least outside local communes, regions of Spain during their brief anarchist Republic (in the 1930s), kibbutz, the Paris Commune of 1871 and so on.

69

Plume 09.28.15 at 1:38 am

Layman,

Yes, I fully admit I may often fall short of clear responses. But, to be honest, I really don’t think you’re interested at all in a real discussion about this. If you were, you’d be able to find at least a little to praise, a little to support, or offer some of your own ideas to fix what you see as problematic. Instead, you’ve worked overtime to tear it all down, and, as with the last time, I can’t help but get the sense that you’re skimming over a few words of my posts, instead of reading them with any care.

Not that you have to. Not that this is required. It’s your right to skip over all of it, ignore all of it. But I think if you’re going to take the time to respond, you really should respond to what I’ve actually said, instead of what you’ve projected onto that space, etc. etc.

Again, it’s probably best if we don’t continue.

70

js. 09.28.15 at 2:28 am

[“Deservingness”] going to produce an outcome very different from that of unconstrained market processes, which is why Hayek (for example) was so strongly opposed to it.

Nozick too, pretty clearly, and for similar reasons. I think Elizabeth Anderson’s argued pretty convincingly—in the context of discussing Rawls—that if you want a scheme of distributive justice, desert and cognate notions are basically hopeless, though as much for the left as for the right.

PS. I know I’ve read the relevant Anderson at some point, but what I most distinctly remember is this coming out compellingly in the Q&A of a talk she gave, so I can’t give a citation right now, unfortunately.

71

js. 09.28.15 at 2:33 am

People who provide a lot of something good for a lot of people really do deserve to be wealthy to some degree.

Why? This is a totally serious question: why do they deserve to be wealthy?

72

Stephen Clark 09.28.15 at 2:46 am

Deservingness becomes the motivating theme that free marketeers and the propertarians use to defeat any democratic means to allocate resources. To merge the market and resource allocation in a manner that is compatible with democracy something akin to the vote must be created. That something is the citizen’s dividend, which is used to create free market socialism. Funded by taxing the rents on money, land, copyright, patent. This sidesteps the problem of deservingness and puts the market to work for the society at large, one person at a time.

73

Matt 09.28.15 at 3:43 am

Again, it’s probably best if we don’t continue.

I know that I, at least, would be very glad if every thread even remotely related to economics didn’t devolve into an extended discussion of Plumism, or Pluminomics, or whatever it is we keep getting long dissertations on. There are lots of good topics here to be discussed, but I don’t see this as one of them. I’m almost certain that I’m not alone. I believe that it’s still free to start a blog, and perhaps starting a new one devoted just to Plumism would be a good choice for those interested in the subject.

74

JanieM 09.28.15 at 4:22 am

What Matt said.

75

Moz of Yarramulla 09.28.15 at 4:42 am

What about beneficiaries of the redistribution who had made great improvements … bought … in good faith?

Is there a country where this isn’t the case? There are very few actual “first people” still around who have any real control over their government, let alone to the point where it could be argued that they are “the original owners”. I explicitly include Africa and Europe in that statement, in case there’s doubt. Possibly some of the Pacific Islands would qualify.

Land is also bound with a lot more restrictions than most people care to think about. The libertarian fantasy falls apart even in the USA when too many “sovereign landowners” fail to accept theft by the government to pay for roads and bridges, to give one example. If enforced, that leads inevitably to forfeiture to the government when the bills aren’t paid, as is happening in Chicago (one example!).

My experience of most communities is that even “freehold” property has community restrictions on it, and one quick way to become alienated from the surrounding community is to do things that are lawful but not socially accepted (exerting your legal right to close community access tracks, for example). Even in the disconnected rich there are social ties, and even without those few people can actually look someone in the eye and let them starve to death – that’s the reality underlying the “burn a fifty pound note in front of a homeless person” ritual David Cameron has recently brought to our attention. What that’s supposed to help enable, of course, is habitually doing the same thing indirectly. As one of the current memes says “Starve a thousand people to death and do they call me Dave the Murderer?”

Again, real property comes with a social context. Anything of value will have that socially rather than financially – any mug can spend money (and many do). So the joke about “two new handles and a new head but it’s my grandfather’s axe” is about the social value of the object. It’s why so few people care that you can buy an asteroid or a PhD… the social value of those things is low and sometimes negative. That’s why some people buy stupid houses in England, so they can be “So’n’so of Brambly Brook Manor” and get the social respect that comes with owning it… and why those things have financial value even though they’re usually worse money pits than a yacht.

76

Brett 09.28.15 at 5:38 am

Black markets sure do seem rather concretely real for complete fictions that should not exist, since the official rules/state/people have decided they do not.

As for the whole “workers should be paid the exact amount they produced and managed to convince someone to take”, I’d agree – if they supplied the entire set of capital, equipment, etc for production by themselves. But if they decide they need outside money, or to be part of an outside organization to do it, then they got to repay the replacement cost of capital/the business/etc – and that includes the business’ profit. They can argue over how much of the output should go to repaying the cost of capital, the cost of management/ownership’s labor, and how much should go to the worker – but it does have to be paid, otherwise the firm doesn’t get started and the worker has to go do something else.

@ Matt

I know that I, at least, would be very glad if every thread even remotely related to economics didn’t devolve into an extended discussion of Plumism, or Pluminomics, or whatever it is we keep getting long dissertations on.

You can always just ignore him. I usually do. I just felt like pushing back on this one because it struck me as absurd – in a market economy, the profit is part of the replacement cost of capital and compensation for labor by the owner. Otherwise, they just don’t start the business, or don’t maintain it for long. Companies are not magically self-organizing entities that owners latch on to parasitically so they can then use them to leach money out of workers.

@js

Why? This is a totally serious question: why do they deserve to be wealthy?

Wealth is subjective. I’m fine with someone getting more compensation if what they do is something that society can less afford to have them stop doing, provided we try to structure compensation so that everyone at least gets some minimum standard of living plus the enforcement of universal legal rights.

77

Collin Street 09.28.15 at 6:01 am

> You can always just ignore him.

Suppose I get about a kilogram of well-washed quartz river gravel, ten to fifteen mm, and dumped it into the salad bar, mixing well.

I mean. It’s quartz. It’s inert and non-toxic, and it’s of a size that’s easy to spot and remove. And there’s not going to be much waste, because salad vegetables don’t tend to stick very strongly to quartz gravel, after all: maybe some of the dressing, but that’s good for you anyway to have less. So there’s no technical problem with eating around it, is there? And thus no reason to object to my venture, if there’s no harm done.

78

Sebastian H 09.28.15 at 6:20 am

Jesus, does every single topic on Crooked Timber have to turn into Plume asserting that capitalism is
E
V
I
L
and Communism fixes EVERYTHINGISWEARTOGODNOREALLYITWOULDWORKIFEVILCAPITALISTSWEREN’TRUININGEVERYTHINGALLTHETIME.

Really, we get it. Your view on human nature and economics suggests things that none of us understand, and which apparently you are horrible at explaining. Not every thread has to be about that.

I’m not completely sure, but I feel like some people have been misled by the title. It sounds like John is asking what initial position we should start from when we want to talk about income redistribution, not what position should we start from when we want to talk about where property rights come from initially.

I agree with Chris Bertram that you can’t property as if it is an entirely social construct. It comes from a sense of ‘mine’. The outside borders of what counts as ‘mine’, the ways which it can be taken from me, the ways it can become ‘yours; all of these can be altered to some degree by social practice. But that isn’t really the same as suggesting that there is absolutely nothing under the idea.

The problem of redistribution is that of mitigating the strength of ‘mine’ without attacking the whole notion. One direction of mitigation is ‘need’ as in “you don’t really need all of that”. Another direction of mitigation is ‘deserve’ as in “you didn’t really earn all of that”. Another is ‘earn’ as in “other people helped you earn that, so they deserve to share in it”. Another is a sense of ‘community’ to make you feel more of a part of a whole that shares the fruits of labor. Another is a sense of injustice used against those who ‘steal’ from others.

In a practical sense, you probably want to push all of those levers, but none of them too much. So you want to suggest that the rich don’t deserve ALL that they are currently getting, and some people need *a portion* of it MUCH more, and the community helped create the wealth somewhat more than is currently credited, and some of the rich (see especially finance) are stealing it from the people actually doing the work, and *some* sense of community could be gained by redistributing *some more*.

A lot of people share the insight that the current distribution is somewhat off in each of those dimensions, without feeling like we would be better off by junking everything and starting from scratch.

79

John Quiggin 09.28.15 at 7:01 am

Plume, I agree with other commenters here. From now on, for my post, can you limit yourself to one comment per post per day.

80

Peter T 09.28.15 at 8:00 am

If one is starting from the very beginning, it makes more sense to think of it as a problem not of redistribution but of distribution – as in “how shall we divide up the product of our mutual labour”. The start points are that, for a almost all of this product, our individual contributions are un-measurable and a great deal of the product is the result of the labour of generations long gone. To give a simple example, much of the non-modern world is criss-crossed with paths, small bridges, embankments, dykes and so on – the result of thousands of years of local effort. These facilitate travel, direct water, improve crop yields: they are not obviously the “property” in any sense derivable from purchase or desert of any person alive today. In most cases ownership is not even assignable to any person. And this is more true of modern societies.

So the question is not about personal possessions, but about productive assets – how should we distribute their fruit? Incentives have a part to play, justice a part, community standards (the local version of fairness) a part, maintenance of the social machine a part and so on. How much should be overtly in political play? Through what processes? Much will be, because (contra propertarians) this is ineluctably a collective enterprise.

81

reason 09.28.15 at 8:15 am

Sebastian H.
Yes, but there is more (and maybe some that needs to be emphasized more). It is not just about backward looking “rights”, but forward looking “opportunities” (in the positive sense). There is a sense in which a particular arrangement of rights may impede future positive developments. That giving up some of those rights may be of universal benefit.

82

BT 09.28.15 at 11:38 am

I can’t remember where I read this (have a feeling it might have been in New Statesman – perhaps someone else can better track this down?) where the commentator was talking to member of what I would call the ‘true’ aristocracy – some English Baron-or-whatnot who could trace his peerage back to around the twelfth century.

The commentator asked about how the peerage came into being. The Lord simply that “By that” – gesturing to a large battle axe mounted on the wall.

Always reminds me that property rights only come into existence when someone else wants what you have, and that violence ultimately underpins them.

83

Plume 09.28.15 at 2:00 pm

John Quiggin @79,

That’s fine, and I’ll adhere to that and go a few steps further. Will be taking a long, long break from CT, perhaps to the trailing sound of applause:

;>)

But please consider the following: When I make a comment, and it’s met with a lot of direct questions for more info, it’s not just me taking things in another direction. There are others involved, and you’re not limiting them. And when I respond to those questions and comments, correcting the frequent misreadings, arguing against the silly hyperbole, as exemplified by Sebastian H at 78, it’s not just me “derailing” the thread. And you’re not limiting folks like Sebastian.

Or, when someone like Matt @73 chimes in, after I’ve already asked another poster to consider the subject closed, he reopens the topic, and you don’t limit him.

In short, when posters complain about other posters “derailing” the conservation, they derail the conversation. And when they complain about a topic being discussed too often, they’re extending that topic — and they’re doing that without me.

It’s not just the old “it takes two to tango,” JQ. The school marms and hall monitors here extend and multiply the effects of the very comments they claim to find so tiresome. And they’re doing so, I strongly suspect, for no other reason than to feel superior. At least in this case, they’re operating under serious delusions.

Take care, all. Enjoy your fall, winter and beyond.

84

Val 09.28.15 at 2:57 pm

Good luck Plume.

I’d like to put in a word for Plume here, though I know it won’t cut much ice with some here, who find me just as annoying as they find Plume.

Anyway – sometimes when I’m talking to people on CT, I fall for the trap of ‘if I just explain more, they’ll get it’. Because it is hard to believe that people like say, Layman (as an example in this thread) who sound very intelligent and reasonable on many issues, just apparently can’t see outside certain frameworks.

I recently said that a lot of commenters on CT were boring. I admit (and apologise) that that was rather rude. However it can be frustrating to talk with people who can’t apparently think outside rather limited conceptual frameworks.

As Plume has said on numerous occasions, it’s not a question of whether people agree or disagree with you. It’s fine to disagree on logical or empirical grounds. What is hard to deal with is the lack of open-mindedness by some CT commenters, the tendency to react to ideas that they don’t understand with ridicule. It’s certainly not what one expects on a (relatively) academic blog.

For myself, I know a bit about feminist theory, theories of inequality and environmental issues, which is not surprising as I’m studying those things. But I have largely given up trying to discuss them here, because of the amount of rather ignorant dismissiveness and ridicule I’m subjected to. Like Plume, I did on several occasions fall into the trap of ‘if I just keep explaining, they’ll get it’ thereby confirming in certain people’s minds that I was a pain, or whatever.

So I’m not trying to defend Plume’s loquaciousness, just maybe trying to explain it a bit.

85

Layman 09.28.15 at 3:14 pm

I think I’ve said before, I’m not bothered by off-topic comments or digressions. They’re sometimes interesting, and when they’re not, they’re easy enough to skip. Comments complaining about off-topic comments, on the other hand, are never interesting.

So I’ll save my apology for Plume: Sorry to see you go.

86

Lynne 09.28.15 at 3:30 pm

Plume, I’m sorry to see you go, too.

87

DrDick 09.28.15 at 3:41 pm

Sebastian H –

While there is certainly a degree to which there is an innate sense of “mine”, which is found in chimpanzees and bonobos, but there is no innate “right to mine” and among apes you have no rights that you cannot forcibly defend. Among humans, this right (and all other rights) is always culturally defined and highly variable.

88

Lynne 09.28.15 at 3:42 pm

And just to add to that: Sometimes discussions here can be very dry even about desperately important subjects. Plume writes with passion and love about poverty and injustice when some treat these things like academic exercises. I will miss that.

89

JanieM 09.28.15 at 3:55 pm

Comments complaining about off-topic comments, on the other hand, are never interesting.

This too, of course, is a complaint about off-topic comments……..

90

Layman 09.28.15 at 4:21 pm

“This too, of course, is a complaint about off-topic comments……..”

…and no more interesting than the others.

91

Bernard Yomtov 09.28.15 at 4:31 pm

Val,

As Plume has said on numerous occasions, it’s not a question of whether people agree or disagree with you. It’s fine to disagree on logical or empirical grounds. What is hard to deal with is the lack of open-mindedness by some CT commenters, the tendency to react to ideas that they don’t understand with ridicule./i>

This really begs the question. Much of my criticism of Plumism is based on logical grounds, because, to me, at least, it makes no sense whatsoever. To argue that this shows no “open-mindedness” is silly. In the past – not this time- I read Plume’s comments carefully before responding. That’s open-mindedness. Concluding that his theories are nonsense is logic, not close-mindedness.

92

js. 09.28.15 at 6:18 pm

I’m fine with someone getting more compensation if what they do is something that society can less afford to have them stop doing

OK. I might be fine with that too. But I was wondering about Sebastian H’s claim that people who make positive contributions to society (or above some threshold or whatever) *deserve* wealth. And what you or I might be fine with is irrelevant to the question of desert.

93

DrDick 09.28.15 at 7:37 pm

js @ 92 –

The larger issue, which gets hidden in this construction, is exactly how much has any individual actually contributed to something? One can certainly justify a lone craftsman who sources his materials and markets his products making a prosperous living, though such a person is highly unlikely to become wealthy. By contrast, the usual cases put forth to support the claim (Bill, Gates, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, etc.), have relied heavily on the work of others, without whom they could not have produced anything. Do not all these others deserve a substantial, if not equal, share in the rewards from their joint endeavor?

94

Val 09.28.15 at 9:41 pm

Bernard Yomtov @ 91
I think that dismissing Plume’s theories as “nonsense” just because you don’t agree with them, is an example of the problem I’m talking about. Fine to disagree, not fine to call them nonsense. I don’t think they’re nonsense – which probably makes me a fool too in your mind, but I’m not.

At the risk of falling down the rabbit hole of explanation, I’ll try to make an analogy. It’s probably easier to think about these ideas in a more limited form, rather than as a whole theoretical society as Plume tends to do.

So let’s say I was trying to explain to someone why a publicly funded health system in which everyone got salaries was better and fairer than a fee for service system on market principles. And the person kept saying ‘but doctors would have to charge a fee’, because he or she couldn’t conceive of a system in which doctors didn’t charge fees.

That seems to me somewhat similar to what happens to Plume often, and specifically somewhat similar to the conversation between Plume and Layman above. As I say, in those circumstances there is a tendency to think that if you just keep explaining, they will get it.

I have to say also that Plume was almost always polite – much more than I would probably be in the same circumstances!

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Layman 09.28.15 at 10:44 pm

“That seems to me somewhat similar to what happens to Plume often, and specifically somewhat similar to the conversation between Plume and Layman above. ”

I’m open to the idea that I don’t understand Plume. I’m less open to the idea that the problem is entirely the result of my supposedly closed mind. There’s a material difference between the worker establishing the value of his or her labor, and society democratically establishing the value of the worker’s labor; and that difference is not a figment of my hidebound imagination. The one is not the same as the other.

I hope I’m also polite. I endeavor to be.

96

js. 09.28.15 at 10:55 pm

DrDick @93 — I totally agree. But even the narrower point about deserving wealth seems a little weird to me.

97

Sebastian H 09.28.15 at 11:15 pm

“I’m fine with someone getting more compensation if what they do is something that society can less afford to have them stop doing”

“But I was wondering about Sebastian H’s claim that people who make positive contributions to society (or above some threshold or whatever) *deserve* wealth.”

The quote which triggered the query was “People who provide a lot of something good for a lot of people really do deserve to be wealthy to some degree. The problem is that ‘to some degree’ isn’t the same as ‘ to any degree they can get away with’, and that the number of wealthy who really are deservedly wealthy in that sense is very low compared to those who aren’t.”

You might be putting more moral weight on ‘deserve’ than I intended. Wealth has a few positive functions and some negative effects, and any good discussion of redistribution should be about helping the positive functions and decreasing the negative effects.

The concept of ‘mine’ may come from things or wealth created in laudable endeavours (like creating more food than you and your family need, creating things that bring enjoyment to people, making people’s lives better, or being paid to do things that bring enjoyment to people) or from things that aren’t laudable (like killing someone to get their stuff). To the extent that they are doing the former, I would tend to think of them as ‘deserving’ at least some of the income/wealth earned from that.

Buying a piece of property which later happens to gain value because it is in a more desirable location than when you bought it may get you wealth or income (and it may be a bad idea to try to mess with the price signal to interfere with that for other reasons), but I wouldn’t think that you ‘deserve’ it *AS MUCH* as someone who was providing happiness for people.

Now from a political perspective I can also see all sorts of dangers in trying too hard to divide things into deserving and undeserving categories (just because someone is your political enemy doesn’t mean they are undeserving in the sense I’m talking about for instance). But that means we should be careful, not that we already found the perfect balance.

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Layman 09.28.15 at 11:44 pm

Ideally, the heavy lifting of redistribution would happen ‘up front’ – through legislation that regulates things like minimum wages, workers rights, and compensation ratios throughout the hierarchy. Return CEO / worker compensation ratios to some reasonable and defensible level, by law. Force companies to account for non-standard comp as if it were pay, and include it in the ratio rule – or, alternatively, ban it. Regulate bonuses and pension programs to require that they include all employees, and (again) hold to strict ratios from top to bottom.

I say this is ideal (but hard!) because it establishes the ground rules up front. Better a CEO decides to become a CEO knowing what to expect, than coming along later to claw back what he or she thinks she deserves after the fact. You’ll still need progressive income tax rates, and you’ll need to tax capital gains at higher rates than you do income, of course. Money and power always find a way to conjoin, and you’ll need mechanisms to break them apart again.

99

John Quiggin 09.28.15 at 11:58 pm

I’m writing a series of articles for Jacobin on Locke’s theory of property rights. The first, pointing out the crucial role of expropriation of indigenous people, and the links to Locke’s support for slavery is here

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/locke-treatise-slavery-private-property/

I should have another one on masters and servants soon, and then I plan to update to the modern period and look at the nature of property rights in capital and ideas, as opposed to land.

100

Moz of Yarramulla 09.29.15 at 12:15 am

js@96: infants and some animals appear to recognise both ownership and reward. There’s an experiment where two monkeys in adjacent cages do the same task but one is given a grape (reward) and the other a sultana (food, but not as good as a grape), generally ending up with the sultana being thrown at the researcher and occasionally the grape too.

I think that “deserve wealth” works the same way. Some people will work harder (or be seen to work harder) or be more successful at working, and it’s intuitive to most that they should get more. Not all of the extra, most likely, but some. They’ll also be the first one to be asked for help when someone else is short, and in most communities that’s seen as part of the price of success. More accurately, there’s an active obligation on those who have to share it.

We can (and arguably try to) translate this up past the Dunbar Number to a societal level with capitalism and progressive taxation funding a welfare state. Where Libertarianism and disaster capitalism fail the social sanction test is by trying to only implement half of the intuitive deal: successful workers keep their gains, but have no responsibility to share anything, and the role of the state is to prevent anyone from making them share.

In Australia we regularly see this portrayed as a problem that Aboriginal communities have that must be stamped out – the obligation to share is unAustralian. It’s a conflict between community and state. Historically that’s been resolved through violence, but in modern Australia we prefer to cut the water off to drive everyone out of the community rather than send in the army (although we have done both in the last 10 years).

101

LFC 09.29.15 at 12:33 am

JQ @99
Some of your Jacobin piece on Locke, which I just read, was familiar from your posts here, but it’s nice to see the whole argument laid out as it is there. The one sentence that bothered me was your statement that Locke was not read much in England. Maybe that’s true for the Locke works you’re discussing, but ch.1 of H. May’s The Enlightenment in America (1976) makes it sound as if Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding was pretty widely read in England. Might be worth looking into and/or clarifying this point if this material is going to appear in your ‘Economics in Two Lessons’ book (or in another book…)

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Collin Street 09.29.15 at 1:12 am

Force companies to account for non-standard comp as if it were pay, and include it in the ratio rule – or, alternatively, ban it.

Something that’s actually worked pretty well in structural-engineering regulations is the “deemed to comply” approach, you set out:
+ the standard you want the structure to perform to
+ a set of rules-of-thumb for generating structures that are deemed to comply to the standard without further investigation
+ the option of doing something outside the normal approach, but it’s up to you to show the authority that it works to the required standard.

Sometimes they’re even so straightforward as “approach XXY must perform to the standard to the satisfaction of the authority”, and that’s the entire rule: working out how to satisfy the authority is your problem.

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Moz of Yarramulla 09.29.15 at 2:09 am

to the satisfaction of the authority”, and that’s the entire rule: working out how to satisfy the authority is your problem.

I disagree with this approach when it is applied to solutions that don’t have a concrete test. Even in engineering “the authority has to like it” is a huge source of cost and delay for even simple engineering, let alone completely subjective things like “the Heritage Trust has to agree that this building fits the historic feel of the neighbourhood”.

But when it comes to “company is paying their workers fairly” is so subjective and such a site of active disagreement that anyone using that scheme is doomed to failure. The only way to pass the test is to stack the judging panel.

In Australia we have tax questions that work along these lines, with the tax office issuing both non-binding opinions and legally enforceable opinions (and judgements). You can subject your scam to them and ask for an opinion, but for the most part that’s only done by people trying to push the envelope. My instinct is that people like that should have to put up a bond that’s forfeit if their scam is not approved of. The existing penalties for having your scam discovered in operation should be unchanged or increased.

104

ZM 09.29.15 at 3:09 am

Moz of Yarramulla,

“But when it comes to “company is paying their workers fairly” is so subjective and such a site of active disagreement that anyone using that scheme is doomed to failure. The only way to pass the test is to stack the judging panel.”

I am too young to really remember the politics of the 80s in much detail, but wasn’t that the purpose of the Hawke government’s “The Accord” policy?

I think it was a sort of compact between government, workers and possibly business too, so that unions would agree for workers income to rise more slowly with the government agreeing to make policies to slow price rises and inflation which I guess businesses must have agreed to as well?

I think this sort of compromise is reasonably common in Australia. I did a history assignment on a little Welsh church in the town I grew up in, which meant I researched some of the history of the area more properly than I would do just as a resident. When the alluvial goal mining was finishing there was a move to reef mining — but of course this is different because for alluvial mining the miners just had to pay a fee for a miner’s permit (when the fees were raised too high we had the Monster Meeting here which was a predecessor of the Eureka Rebellion) but with reef mining you need capital to build the mine and pay the workers in the development stages of the mine before any gold in found and so on. There was an article in, if I recall correctly, The Argus about one of the first reef mines in town called The Alliance Mine — named so because it was conceived of as an alliance between labour and capital.

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Moz of Yarramulla 09.29.15 at 3:51 am

wasn’t that the purpose of the Hawke government’s “The Accord” policy?

Yes, but even at the time some people were vigorously unhappy. People on both sides. So describing it as an agreement is to stack the judges. In many ways it was an agreement made between someone formerly representing workers (Hawke) and someone nominally representing capital (Keating), both within one government. I wasn’t there and don’t know a lot about it, so I’m not well placed to dissect it.

Using an elected government as the final arbiter of this stuff is in theory the least awful way, but in practice it degenerates to what we see today in the US (“anything Obama supports we oppose”), Australia (“anything Rudd or Gillard did, we will undo”) and even more democratic countries like Sweden (massive reductions in unemployment benefits, sick pay and pensions to pay for tax reductions, that were implemented by an unstable coalition between right wing parties and far right wing parties).

One issue back then and even more so now, is that labour is restricted in the ways they can mobilise, while capital is much less restricted. At the extreme there is no equivalent to the various government investigations into union “misbehaviour” (variously defined), let alone restrictions on collective behaviour (the way there is for pricing, say).

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Moz of Yarramulla 09.29.15 at 3:52 am

full disclosure: I’m listening to Billy Bragg while writing this :)

107

John Quiggin 09.29.15 at 4:08 am

LFC @101 I’m glad you liked the piece. I’m going to drop the claim about Locke being neglected and just say that his greatest influence was through the US Founders.

Plume: I’m sorry you feel a restriction to one post per day is unreasonable. If it helps, I’ll clarify and say that other commenters should make at most one response per day each to you. That way you can have the same conversation, just at a lower frequency.

108

ZM 09.29.15 at 5:41 am

John Quiggin,

“I’m writing a series of articles for Jacobin on Locke’s theory of property rights. The first, pointing out the crucial role of expropriation of indigenous people, and the links to Locke’s support for slavery is here…. I should have another one on masters and servants soon, and then I plan to update to the modern period and look at the nature of property rights in capital and ideas, as opposed to land.”

I think that you might point out in your introduction that the “Glorious Revolution” was not the overthrow of the absolutist Stuart Dynasty at all — what happened was to get more power for themselves the Parliament pretended the King “abdicated” not based on King James II and VII saying he abdicated but based on John Locke’s rhetoric about Kings abdicating if they don’t meet John Locke’s criteria — then the Parliament replaced the King with his daughter Mary, who was of course a Stuart too by blood, and her husband as well — this unusual arrangement of having two people bearing the Crown was unprecedented and never happened again to my knowledge as imagine what happened if they disagreed on a matter of State? Then the Crown went to Anne who was also a Stuart by blood — I suppose the Parliament gave the Crown to women since they would have more difficulty in getting armed men to support them against the Parliament and also since they probably did not get educated as well as Elizabeth I they did not have any opinions about policy to disagree with the Parliamentarians over — then when Anne died it went to the son of Elizabeth the Winter Queen of Bohemia, and she was also a Stuart by blood being the daughter James I and VI who was targeted by the Gunpowder Plotters. And you could mention how John Locke was exiled for intrigue and returned to England with Mary, and also how the Earl of Shaftesbury was a great intriguer as well. If you leave out all the intrigue then you make John Locke sound too respectable.

“The real contradictions are to be found within Locke’s philosophical writings. These are designed to fit his political positions both in England, where he supported resistance to the absolutist pretensions of the Catholic James II, and in America, where he was part of the slave-owning ruling class (albeit from afar).”

It is not really fair to say James II and VII had absolutist pretensions. You have to consider the times. If you consider the Parliament and the emerging wealthy middle classes who were able to elect members of Parliament due to holding sufficient property — I am sure you would feel like being an absolutist too since they were so awful. While they were taking land in America they were also privatising common land in England — James II and VII tried to do something about this and look what happened to him.

There were debates at the time about the role and duties of government. These often used the language of Public Trust — which is the law I am interested in which is why I read about it. One area of contention was what to do when the government did not fulfil its public trust obligations — some people said it was up to the people to set things right, others said it was up to God. People’s positions on this often reflected whether they were protestant or Catholic. So King James II and VII’s argument was that it was up to God, and he held the highest office in England so only God could correct him. Of course this was not right in English law because you already had the Magna Carta signed some time ago which makes it clear that the King can’t just do what he wants, but has certain duties and the public have rights and so on, and you also had the Lord High Chancellor who was the highest office who was Keeper of the King’s Conscience and Keeper of the Great Seal — but we already saw what happened to Thomas More who got killed for telling the King it was not right to make himself head of the Church in England.

“Locke’s real defense is that regardless of whether there is a lot or a little, uncultivated land is essentially valueless. All, or nearly all, the value, he says, comes from the efforts of the farmers who improve the land. Since God gave us the land to improve, it rightfully belongs to those who improve it.” But it is now reasonably well established that “hunters and gatherers” often garden and farm themselves, which improves the land, like in the book The Biggest Estate On Earth, or in anthropology books on people in Papua and the Amazon and so on.

I am glad you have mentioned the Kelo V The City of New London case considering my comments above on Trusts deriving from the Medieval “Use”.

You will see in the webpage you linked to it says “No. In a 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens, the majority held that the city’s taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a “Public Use” within the meaning of the takings clause. ….The Fifth Amendment did not require “literal” Public use, the majority said, but the “broader and more natural interpretation of Public Use as ‘public purpose.'”

As I mentioned above Trusts came from the Medieval “Use” — where the feoffee has a duty to the feoffer — so when the judges in the Kelo case talk about the “Public Use” they are talking about the Public Trust — which is the law I have mentioned many times previously, which we in the former colonies inherit from England and which England got from Ancient Rome — so we can sue the government for not acting sufficiently to provide for the common good.

I mentioned above how all land is ultimately owned by the Crown in Australia. In America the Government’s right to take land is in the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause “which applies to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, creates a two-step analy- sis that courts must apply to determine if government can take private real property. The first step is to determine whether government takes the private realty for a public use, while the second step is to en- sure that the government provides just compensation.”

The Kelo case appears to be an important case as the government took private land to resell for private use. This is considered somewhat of a redefinition of the Public Use but was not new as something similar had already happened in a case in Yonkers.

Ultimately this redefinition of the Public Use appears to suggest that in fact commercial businesses are also bound by a duty to the public good, just as governments are.

In Australia we find this kind of expectation of businesses made somewhat overt in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (formerly the Trade Practices Act): s20 “a corporation must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is unconscionable within the meaning of the unwritten law”

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ZM 09.29.15 at 6:13 am

For references on the so-called “Glorious Revolution” and the Enclosure Movement

“Enclosure continued to be a major source of conflict in Early Modern England, whether for sheep or for increasingly profitable arable farming. Enclosure riots punctuated the 16th and 17th Centuries, and enclosure surfaced as a major grievance in the English Civil War. In its earlier stages the practice was to some extent resisted by the monarchical state, if only because of the threat to public order. But once the landed classes had succeeded in shaping the state to their own changing requirements — a success more or less finally consolidated in 1688 with the so-called “Glorious Revolution” — there was no further state interference, and a new kind of enclosure movement emerged in the 18th century — the so-called “Parliamentary Enclosures”. In this kind of enclosure, the extinction of troublesome property rights that interfered with some landlord’s powers of accumulation took place by Acts of Parliament.”
[then there are a number of paragraphs on John Locke’s work immediately following this]

Source: The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View by Ellen Meiksins Wood

“To be sure, the usurpation of peasants’ rights to access to land was neither new nor limited to England; as we have seen the usurpation had also been characteristic of the Roman power holders. Nevertheless the intensity of the process of transforming common land into private property, which began in the late 15th century and was completed by the early 19th century, has no precedent in history. Nor was there a precedent for the complex process of transforming of the law to accommodate the annihilation of customary rights, such as gleaning, collection of wood and other forest products, access to rivers and lakes, and so on.

Scholars are divided on the causes, consequences, and shifting attitudes of power holders towards the fencing of land in England. The Tudor kings and queens, fearing peasant unrest, resisted enclosure and passed legislation against it, in defiance of property owner gentry represented in Parliament. Nevertheless, Acts of Parliament (known as the Parliamentary Enclosures) forced the privatisation and titling of land as private property after the overthrow of King James II in 1688 (known as The Glorious Revolution).

Revolts against enclosures, most famously the Midland Revolt in 1607, were frequent and bloody. Notions of land improvement and scientific agriculture were deployed during 18th century debates about the desirability of enclosures, with agronomists, lawyers, economists, engineers, and even the philosopher John Locke, busy working to transform a brutal class plunder against the poor into a narrative of progress and efficiency. By the early 19th century common lands, accessible to all and governed by ancient customs had been relegated to remote mountain areas.”

Source: The Ecology of Law: Toward a Legal System in Tune with Nature and Community
by Fritjof Capra, Ugo Mattei

110

Shirley0401 09.29.15 at 6:41 pm

Stephen Clark @1

Moving the starting point up from zero can change many of the definitions and political considerations…
The starting point is now poverty. This is what gives the employer the power advantage in wage negotiations.

Thanks for this. I’d love to know JQ’s response, as I’m pretty sure he’s sympathetic to some sort of income guarantee, at least theoretically. (Might even have read about it on CT or in the Zombie Economics book, but can’t be sure.) For the life of me, I can’t understand why this idea hasn’t gained more traction by now. It just seems self-evidently obvious to me that we’re heading in something very close to the entirely wrong direction when it comes to “entitlements” and the provision of basic necessities for those who haven’t been able to negotiate a way to provide for themselves in the current system. Which links back to opportunity cost, doesn’t it?
Layman @98

Return CEO / worker compensation ratios to some reasonable and defensible level, by law. Force companies to account for non-standard comp as if it were pay, and include it in the ratio rule – or, alternatively, ban it…
Money and power always find a way to conjoin, and you’ll need mechanisms to break them apart again.

Another thing I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the claim by some that it’s only things like minimum wage, pensions, wage ratios, progressive taxation, &c, that create distortion. How is somebody having nothing to eat, and therefore being forced to work for starvation wages, not distortionary? (Is that a word? Distortative?) I suppose some would claim that isn’t the problem of the employer, but isn’t it still the problem of the society? Especially since it’s no longer an option to simply start walking west until that person finds a nice plot of land upon which to build?
Interesting post, and comments, regardless. Although I’ll miss reading Plume’s comments, and other commenters’ responses, on my mostly-silent visits to CT. As someone sympathetic to at least some of Plume’s positions, but who doesn’t have the academic background to really engage with most of the folks that frequent the site, I found the back-and-forth useful.
PS: Sorry if my formatting is screwy. Trying blockquotes for the first time.

111

Val 09.29.15 at 10:13 pm

Layman @ 95
I think you are taking us in to complex areas about individualism vs communalism, which are very complicated. So I will try to reply briefly and apologies if it’s not very clear as a result.

1. The privileging of the individual over the communal is one of the reasons for many of the problems of inequality we have today (it’s also related to patriarchy, the devaluing of care, and treating the natural world as a source of use value). Not saying the individual should be devalued, but neoliberalism over values individuals at the expense of the communal and the common good.

2. In a genuinely egalitarian world, your exceptional skills as a chair maker should be recognised and valued. But so too should the exceptional skills of the orange growers, child carers, musicians, writers, house cleaners, builders, technicians and so on with whom you are potentially exchanging your chairs.

112

Bernard Yomtov 09.30.15 at 12:00 am

Val,

I think that dismissing Plume’s theories as “nonsense” just because you don’t agree with them, is an example of the problem I’m talking about.

You miss my point. I don’t dismiss them as nonsense because I don’t agree with them. I dismiss them as nonsense because they make no sense to me. Maybe “illogical,” “incoherent,” etc. would be more polite terms, but they come to same thing.

It’s probably easier to think about these ideas in a more limited form, rather than as a whole theoretical society as Plume tends to do.

No doubt it is. And that’s part of the problem. When you look at them in a limited form they break down rather badly.

And the person kept saying ‘but doctors would have to charge a fee’, because he or she couldn’t conceive of a system in which doctors didn’t charge fees.

I can easily conceive of a system such as you describe, and might well support it. But with respect to what we are talking about, I again think you are begging the question. When you suggest I don’t like Plumism because I can’t conceive of such a system, you are saying that my criticism stems simply from a failure of imagination on my part. That is neither accurate nor fair. My criticism stems from trying to grasp how such a system would work, and concluding that it would be a political and economic disaster.

Not believing in unicorns is not a failure of imagination.

I have to say also that Plume was almost always polite – much more than I would probably be in the same circumstances!

As long as you leave the “almost” in I agree.

113

js. 09.30.15 at 1:09 am

Sebastian H @97:

Well, desert is a moral category—it goes along with things like justice, getting what’s rightfully yours (in a moral sense), etc. That’s what struck me about your original comment: wherefrom this moral claim on wealth? I’m not saying it couldn’t exist, and MofY is giving a kind of proto-argument for it @100 I think, tho I’m not convinced it’ll get one all the way to wealth, as that’s normally construed. In any case, it was—and is—very unclear to me what the argument was supposed to be, which is why I asked.

Now @97, you seem to be presenting a quite different sort of justification for wealth. Again, I’m not entirely sure what you have in mind, but “positive vs. negative functions”, etc., suggests to me an instrumentalist justification: incentives, encouraging socially beneficial behavior, that sort of thing. All of that may be right (or it may not), but either way, it’s a very different sort of argument than a desert-based one. So now I’m even more unclear on what the justification is supposed to be—i.e. the justification for rewarding socially good behavior with wealth.

114

Val 09.30.15 at 2:25 am

@112
the problem is you are conflating your individual evaluative judgement (‘I find Plume’s theories so illogical and incoherent that I can’t take them seriously) with an objective standard (Plume’s theories are so illogical and incoherent that no one can take them seriously).

They’re not the same thing and can’t be no matter how many ways you restate it.

115

Brett Dunbar 09.30.15 at 4:03 am

@ 114

Well if Plume’s ideas are so incoherent that no one can take them seriously it follows that they are so incoherent that I can’t tale them seriously. It is possible that they make sense and describe something truly novel that doesn’t currently exist but is capable of existing and would work better than what we have, but that seems unlikely.

To the extent that I can make sense of them they appear to advocate a command economy of some sort. We have experience of them and they work rather less well than a market economy.

116

Marshall 09.30.15 at 5:00 am

JQ @ Jacobin: … there is no justification for treating property rights as fundamental human rights, on par with personal liberty and freedom of speech.

Donald Brown included “property rights” in his list in Human Universals & I don’t know how you would formulate a society without a concept that things (actual objects, land, rituals, affections) can be owned, can belong to (a person, a collective, a god). It even feels natural to reify “rights” as stuff that humans have. Anyway I would claim there is indeed a fundamental human right to have actual physical stuff, be it only a sleeping bag in a shopping cart, and be secure in it; a natural extention of the right to be secure in your person. And that right is under major attack these days.

117

Sebastian H 09.30.15 at 5:04 am

JS, I think the problem is that I believe the moral impulse we are working with in ‘mine’ and from it ‘property’, has elements of both desert which get played out in society through an instrumental way of looking at it. It isn’t either/or.

The problem with JQ’s method is that it tries to look at property as if it were purely a social construct–with the idea that you can therefore construct in almost any other way you find instrumentally useful. But if property is grounded more deeply than that, you can change how it interacts on the borders, but there are certain things you can’t do to it without causing serious problems.

I’m not sure I’ve thought about it deeply enough, but I tend to think that different types of property have intuitively different moral underpinnings. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that many of the disagreements here are caused by trying to ascribe the moral underpinnings of one type of property to some other type of property.

For example, the modern capitalist pose suggests that food you pay workers to grow on land that you rent has all of the property characteristics of food that you grow yourself on your own land. Or even more tenuously, the profit you earn from the food you pay workers to grow on land that you rent has all of the property characteristics of food that you grow yourself on your own land.

Now instrumentally, we may choose to look at the problem and decide that we should treat them as the same. So for purposes of the law they will be the same. But that is an END point, not a beginning point where just labeling them ‘forms of property’ answers the whole question.

It is weird to put it like that, because everyone here who has seen me write knows that I’m very pro-capitalist. But I don’t believe that all endeavors or profits are equally valuable. Getting profits from creating things that people want and/or making them happier are good. We should use the capitalist system to encourage that. Getting profits from threatening people with harm, or with market manipulation tend not to be as good. We should create incentives to discourage that.

However back to JQs post, where should we start? We shouldn’t start with a chain of title back to infinity and work out the most just owners of everything currently in existence. We should try to decide where we want to go, and incentivize the system to get us there. If that means taxing away most of near-useless high frequency trading profits (for example) that’s good. If it means disincentivizing the discovery of new pharmaceuticals, not so good.

(And yes there is a balance between complexity and simplicity, so maybe just “tax the hell out of everything on a personal income basis which is above X” will be better.

118

Val 09.30.15 at 9:02 am

@ 115
The capacity for CT commenters to read your comments in a way you never intended is also alarming! I meant that just because one individual judges Plume’s comments to be incoherent, that doesn’t mean they are to everyone.

Had no idea someone could take it in the way you did. Lordy Lordy

119

Layman 09.30.15 at 2:18 pm

@Val: “the problem is you are conflating your individual evaluative judgement”

I’ve resisted this response for 2 days, because I know it won’t help: The problem, Val, is that you’re making broad, general, insulting statements about other people’s cognitive abilities, and then asking them to agree with you. If you think Plume’s proposal is clear and internally consistent, you should articulate it. If you think others have not grasped his statements properly, you should point to specific examples where they’ve gotten it wrong. Doing neither, while judging us as incapable of conceiving ideas outside of our hidebound ways, is just insulting. If you just want to insult, that’s fine, too, but you won’t get much constructive engagement.

120

DrDick 09.30.15 at 2:20 pm

Marshall @ 116 –

Speaking as a cultural anthropologist, property rights are not cultural universals, at least in the sense you put forth. There are much more limited property rights, subject to other compelling claims, that are universal, however. There is certainly no universal right to wealth and in many societies, those who are more successful are morally compelled to give away most or all of their excess.

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DrDick 09.30.15 at 2:27 pm

JS, I think the problem is that I believe the moral impulse we are working with in ‘mine’ and from it ‘property’, has elements of both desert which get played out in society through an instrumental way of looking at it. It isn’t either/or.

The problem with this is a deficit of empirical evidence to support the extension from the animalistic, conditional assertion of “mine” to a generalized moral right to property. There is a large gap between primate societies where individuals can claim whatever they are strong enough to seize and to hold and societies which recognize strong, generalize property rights. In between are a vast number of societies characterized by morally compulsory generosity and sharing.

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Layman 09.30.15 at 2:34 pm

“It is weird to put it like that, because everyone here who has seen me write knows that I’m very pro-capitalist. But I don’t believe that all endeavors or profits are equally valuable. Getting profits from creating things that people want and/or making them happier are good. We should use the capitalist system to encourage that. Getting profits from threatening people with harm, or with market manipulation tend not to be as good. We should create incentives to discourage that.”

The problem with that is that employment is, itself, an implicit threat of harm. If it were not, we would not need laws to protect workers from harmful working conditions, unfair treatment, exploitation, etc. There would never have been any labor movement, palsied as it seems to be today.

I think you have to view capitalism and wealth as a necessary evils, with the emphasis on both words. Free marketers focus on ‘necessary’ and ignore ‘evil’, and concoct policies which protect capitalism while emphasizing its harmful results: Inequality, wealth concentration, regulatory and state capture, wage slavery, environmental degradation, conflict, etc.

What is needed are policies that permit capitalism while keeping it in a stranglehold of regulation designed to mitigate its worst effects. As just one example, there is research on optimum levels of taxation which can constrain the growth of wealth, maximize tax revenue for redistribution, while not discouraging capitalists from playing. Taxes are simply too low to rein in the evils of capitalism. The same is true of labor regulation, environmental protection, etc.

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Marshall 09.30.15 at 3:14 pm

I think you and JQ need to push on what property rights we are thinking about. “personal liberty and freedom of speech” are also “limited … subject to compelling claims”. The right to possess your own stuff doesn’t necessarily imply the right to “wealth”, ie “excess”, ie impoverishment of hoi poloi. The ability to be a big man who gives away stuff implies having ownership as the right to give to (someone), ie transfer ownership (giving stuff away is a type of use). Anyway you can argue with Dr. Brown. (I see Steven Pinker is generally responsible for a much expanded list which includes “territoriality” as well as “property”.)

There certainly is a tension between the absolute propertarianistic social facts of our positivist legal culture and a felt regard for the “natural” rights of humans, eg to be secure in your person, to possess adequate means of sustenance, to own the tools of your trade, to manage the affairs of your own family, etc.

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Brett Dunbar 09.30.15 at 3:28 pm

@ 118

What I meant was that I might find Plume’s ideas incoherent because I haven’t understood them or I might find them incoherent because they are incoherent.

Given that Plume shows no sign of understanding how a market operates even at a very basic level (e.g not understanding how competition limits profit margins along with all other costs) I’m not inclined to believe Plume a genius and only a genius would have any prospect of imagining an economic system that might replace capitalism. What Plume actually seems to be describing is imagine a command economy but one that works flawlessly without needing coercion. I don’t find that plausible.

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Bernard Yomtov 09.30.15 at 3:31 pm

Val,

the problem is you are conflating your individual evaluative judgement (‘I find Plume’s theories so illogical and incoherent that I can’t take them seriously) with an objective standard (Plume’s theories are so illogical and incoherent that no one can take them seriously).

I understand that some people take them seriously. I think those people are, objectively, wrong if they believe the scheme is workable.

Some people take creationism seriously. Would it be unfair of me to say that creationism fails to meet objective standards, and that it is not just a subjective judgment on my part that it is inaccurate? Would it be fair for a creationist to accuse me, as you have done, of not understanding his position due to a failure of my imagination, rather than to an honest critical evaluation?

You keep insisting that my objections are subjective, and are due to some failing on my part. I disagree. That you, and others find the theories attractive does not obligate me to treat them as a preference for a different flavor of ice cream.

126

reason 09.30.15 at 3:48 pm

Moz of Yarramulla @105
“Yes, but even at the time some people were vigorously unhappy. People on both sides”

Well if people on both sides were unhappy, it might at least suggest it was relatively unbiased. It is pretty hard to imagine all of both sides being happy with arbitration on any controversial issue.

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Bruce Wilder 09.30.15 at 4:10 pm

There’s an inevitable tension between public and private, in any notion of property, just as there is a tension between the power of possession and the power of violence. Property is a first-order social solution to the problem of violence, and property starts when the violent contest over possession ends, by design if you will. That’s the starting point: when bob mcmanus’ proles have finished taking the rich guys’ stuff, or (historically more likely) the (now) rich guys have finished (for the time being) taking the proles’ stuff. Conquest, 1066; Domesday Book, 1086. What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable: that is the real foundation of law and economics.

It is actually more than discriminating between mine and yours: there is also ours, which is just as natural to a social species as the intuitions of the infant’s grasp. As Sebastian H, in his on-going metamorphosis into a flaming liberal (welcome to my club), has discovered to his own surprise, it is possible to think of a property rights regime as having a socially instrumental value: yours, mine and ours. Getting to, and holding onto some ideas of a common wealth and fair dealing, of a state pursuing and safe-guarding a public good in the administration of a system of (public and) private property, foundational to a system of cooperative, distributed choice.

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DrDick 09.30.15 at 5:42 pm

Marshall @123 –

You are conflating very different things here. There simply are not “property rights” in the modern sense, with the exception of personal effects like clothes and tools, in all societies and the evidence is that the modern form of property rights is quite late in human history, dating to no more than 20,000 years ago, and even then confined to a narrow range of societies (which happen to dominate the world today). It is also the case that in those other societies, you have to share, this is not a choice. As long as anyone in those societies has anything, nobody goes without. These are societies which prioritize collective well-being over individual well-being. That is everybody has the right to “to be secure in their person, to possess adequate means of sustenance, to own the tools of your trade, to manage the affairs of your own family,” part of which is the rights to things produced by others when you do not have enough.

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Val 10.01.15 at 2:30 am

Layman, Brett, Bernard
I can’t speak for Plume but I believe he feels, as I do, that societies such as ours are not sustainable socially or ecologically and that we need to make some radical changes soon. His project, which I support and share, seems to be imagining alternatives. Putting aside issues such as making too many comments, I think the project deserves respect.

I see your response to Plume as unimaginative, or perhaps more precisely, unsympathetic, and at times disrespectful. I know you aren’t necessarily going to like that, but I can’t see that debating it is going to achieve much.

If you’ve got an alternative vision you think will work, well fine, I’m interested. But you probably know that if it’s just a modified version of what we’ve got, I’m not going to agree with you.

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js. 10.01.15 at 2:41 am

Seabstian H @117:

First, let’s get clear about “wealth”. I’m taking “wealth” in the usual sense—say, excess over anything of use value in the near to medium term (sorry if that’s a little obscure, but parsed correctly, it fits what we mean by wealth in phrases like “income and wealth”, as that’s generally used). So, wealth is related to notions of ‘mine and thine’ and property, but it’s not identical (again, it’s an excess, compared to things of use value). Now, even if I grant you all your points about ‘mine and thine’ and property (and to be clear, I’m very much with DrDick about the “naturalness” of any of this), I don’t think you can get to your original claim, i.e. that people who do socially beneficial things deserve wealth. That they deserve some form of compensation I don’t necessarily have a quarrel with (assuming an expansive notion of compensation)—I still don’t see why they deserve wealth in particular.

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John Quiggin 10.01.15 at 2:52 am

Marshall @ 116 Your reference to affections (and to rituals) illustrates the problem in relating feelings about possession to property rights. Obviously people since the dawn of time have felt themselves entitled to the affections of those they love, but whether or not this is a property right is entirely a matter of social convention.

From the 19th until the late 20th century, most English-speaking countries recognised property rights of this kind through actions like the tort of enticement, and breach of promise. Now, they seem like absurd anachronisms. Perhaps that will change in the future.

I had a go at some of these problems in earlier posts. For example, no-one thinks twice about the book title Uncle Tom’s Cabin, even though the central point of the book is that Tom owns neither the cabin nor himself”.

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ZM 10.01.15 at 4:35 am

John Quiggin,

“From the 19th until the late 20th century, most English-speaking countries recognised property rights of this kind through actions like the tort of enticement, and breach of promise. Now, they seem like absurd anachronisms. Perhaps that will change in the future.”

I haven’t heard of these laws before, but I think the Mabo case was a good example of how customary and continuing Indigenous relations to land has been incorporated into the law of Australia which is derived from English law.

Another recent example is the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – which administers the Planning and Environment Act in Victoria – has recently (I believe) started to allow arguments based on widespread community objections to development. One of the precedents for this was from my local government area about the development and use of a former railway goods shed to be a Pokies venue. This divided the community, but the objections were the more overwhelming and VCAT took note of these in its ruling.

In planning theory there is also more attention now given to the idea of “place attachment” which could possibly become more prominent in the future. For example deploying renewable energy technology can upset people’s place attachment if it is not done consultatively with the community.

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Lynne 10.01.15 at 1:03 pm

js, your distinction between compensation and wealth sounds interesting. Can you elaborate? Is there an example of someone doing something that benefits society receiving compensation that isn’t wealth?

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engels 10.01.15 at 1:23 pm

Is there an example of someone doing something that benefits society receiving compensation that isn’t wealth?

Most low-wage workers do.

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engels 10.01.15 at 1:27 pm

Globally: most workers tout court

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Lynne 10.01.15 at 1:43 pm

Engels, granted I haven’t followed this whole discussion, but your answer confuses me. Isn’t the question js is talking about whether some people (those who do particularly beneficial things for society, say) deserve more than others? More what? Wealth, compensation? How are these things different, is what I was wondering, in that context.

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Brett Dunbar 10.01.15 at 2:23 pm

@ 129 I don’t have an alternative as I never claimed to haver an alternative that is entirely irrelevant. The question is does Plume have a coherent superior alternative. To which I would answer that I don’t think he does.

I suppose at some point something will replace capitalism. However it the most effective economic system we have come up with to date and rejecting it due to a few problems seem dangerously like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A large proportion of the problems have entirely orthodox solutions such as pricing in externalities. Regulation is necessary when competition isn’t practicable it is however rather inefficient and prone to regulatory capture.

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Marshall 10.01.15 at 4:17 pm

DrDick @128:

I agree, the modern propertarian form of property rights seems to be an artifact of urban-industrial civilization, but that doesn’t subsume the class completely. On your example, the stuff given away by the Big Man might be considered the wealth of the social group, in which benefitted persons have a share: that is they have rights in that property. Other times and places, the territory and its resources might be considered the property of gods or ancestors, from which use rights suitably bounded are derived. Don’t really understand why a self-proclaimed cultural anthropologist would insist that only the modern western legal (verbal) form is the true megillah, unless positivism.

JQ:

Yes, I’d been thinking about the “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” trope, in part why I found your remark in Jacobin a bit shocking.

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engels 10.01.15 at 4:45 pm

whether some people (those who do particularly beneficial things for society, say) deserve more than others? More what? Wealth, compensation? How are these things different

They’re the same in our society because income (compensation) can be converted into property (wealth) – so if you have a high salary you can eg. invest some of it in a mutual fund or a buy-to-let property – but it’s possible to imagine alternative arrangements where this isn’t the case (eg. incomes are still unequal but private investment in shares and housing does not exist, so income must be consumed or given away). Of course most people do who ‘beneficial things for society’ can not do this either because their income is only just sufficient to meet their own needs or because the ‘beneficial thing’ they are doing doesn’t produce an income at all.

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engels 10.01.15 at 4:47 pm

Plume: ave et vale

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DrDick 10.01.15 at 6:01 pm

Marshall @ 138 –

Again, this contorts the notion of property rights beyond all recognition in an ill advised and wrong headed effort to make it seem like anything other than a a cultural construction devised to create and maintain social stratification. Property rights in any reasonable sense of the term only exist in societies with hereditary inequality. Elsewhere there are only use rights. and the two should never be conflated, as they differ in very important ways (you cannot alienate use rights, for instance).

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steven johnson 10.01.15 at 6:23 pm

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or Life Among the Lowly, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

In the sense of being a product of his labor, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was indeed his cabin, just as the big house was the slaves’. I should think the genitive can apply to deeds as well as chattels.

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Sebastian H 10.01.15 at 6:34 pm

“other than a cultural construction devised to create and maintain social stratification.”

To the extent that property rights are a cultural construction, I would tend to think they were devised to keep people from hurting each other over disputes about what is ‘mine’.

(Also notice that any discussions about the ‘justice’ or ‘fairness’ or ‘unearned’ property rights just smuggles all the normative questions into those words instead of ‘rights’. So it is weird to talk about ‘property’ as being culturally constructed and then talk about ‘justice’ as if it had real normative value. You don’t create normative value or extinguish cultural construction by just changing the decision making point from one word to another.)

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Stephen 10.01.15 at 6:59 pm

Engels@140: “Plume: ave et vale”.

Said by Catullus over his dead brother’s grave. Not sure that is an appropriate phrase.

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DrDick 10.01.15 at 11:35 pm

You don’t create normative value or extinguish cultural construction by just changing the decision making point from one word to another.)

Your inability (or willfull refusal) to read what is written has nothing to do with what I actually wrote. I never mentioned “justice”, as my argument is over the notion that property rights are universal, since it is simply not true. I invite you to consult the extensive anthropological literature on the topic. You are the one moving the goal posts here.

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js. 10.02.15 at 12:55 am

Sebastian H might have been thinking of my comment(s), because I did mention justice. Still, I don’t quite get his point. Surely, I can consistently think that property is a social construction and that nevertheless questions of justice and rights are very real—they just don’t apply to what we call property rights. I mean, maybe that position is wrong, but it’s certainly not incoherent.

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js. 10.02.15 at 1:17 am

Is there an example of someone doing something that benefits society receiving compensation that isn’t wealth?

Lynne, I have admittedly been hedging a bit, but I think the answer to this question is surely yes. If we think about more traditional, non-capitalist societies where money didn’t play an important role, whatever was considered exceptionally socially beneficial might be rewarded with social prestige or status or power, but not really with money or wealth in any normal sense. (I’m sure DrDick knows way more about this than me, so s/he can correct me if they wish.) In any case, I’m not saying that’s a better model—I don’t think it is, in fact in many ways it might it might be worse. But still, it’s true that socially beneficial behavior—however we want to think of that—doesn’t *have* to be rewarded with wealth.

Here’s though where I’d ultimately go with this. (And I realize that this sort of thing is generally considered crazy, but I don’t think it’s crazy at all.) Even in societies like ours, which place a great emphasis on money and wealth, there are plenty of people who do essential and highly socially beneficial work not for the monetary rewards but because, well, they want to or because they find it satisfying. In a lot of cases, such work doesn’t bring in significant monetary rewards at all. I think it’s not at all crazy to think that in a society that valued money and wealth a lot less (or not at all), a lot more people—perhaps most people—would do socially beneficial/essential work for non-monetary reasons. So I don’t think it’s true that we must essentially bribe people, or anyway encourage them, with money to get them to do useful things. Now you might say that the kind of thing I’m describing isn’t really compensation at all. And maybe that’s right—it partly depends on what we mean by compensation. Anyway, that’s a little abstract but it’s what I had in mind.

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engels 10.02.15 at 1:25 am

“socially beneficial behavior—however we want to think of that—doesn’t *have* to be rewarded with wealth”

Iirc David Graeber has argued convincingly (in ‘Bullshit Jobs’) that the reverse is true: in general the more socially beneficial your job, the less you will be paid

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ZM 10.02.15 at 1:50 am

” I never mentioned “justice”, as my argument is over the notion that property rights are universal, since it is simply not true. I invite you to consult the extensive anthropological literature on the topic.”

I think the concepts of property and rights are culturally specific. But from the anthropological literature I have read usually even groups that live in collective small societies have a territory of the group, and within that they might have shelters that are for specific persons or groups of persons, and also what we think of s personal property like necklaces or cradles or bags, and even s sort of intellectual property which is often delineated by gender.

Of course in these other cultures they do not use the words property or rights, and their words cannot be directly translated into English words without something being lost.

However this is why the Mabo case here is interesting, as traditional occupation and use of territory by language and cultural groups was recognized by the court to be a sort of title that had to be recognized in the English system of law we inherit.

So I think there is a danger both in deploying concepts of property and rights too generally, and also in denying that indigenous people have a similar sort of framework for their relations to land that can give them title in the Western legal frameworks that were applied to their countries in colonialism. It is all a bit of a muddle really.

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js. 10.02.15 at 2:18 am

engels @148:

I agree with this (and with @139)—I’m just trying to make my point while conceding as much as possible.

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geo 10.02.15 at 2:40 am

Brett @124: only a genius would have any prospect of imagining an economic system that might replace capitalism.

I agree it’s hardly a no-brainer, but I don’t think it’s quite as difficult as you suggest. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, Albert and Hahnel’s Looking Forward, and even Skinner’s Walden Two all set out plausible though very different alternative conceptions, though of course only in outline. Schweickart and Roemer have made less utopian but still radical, and wholly plausible, suggestions. The difficulty is not in figuring out a system of production and distribution that doesn’t entail competition, inequality, and radical insecurity but in generating a degree of social solidarity and trust that would, as you say, make coercion unnecessary. In other words, it’s not a technical problem but a moral/psychological/cultural one.

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DrDick 10.02.15 at 3:34 am

ZM –

I have said several times that personal possessions are considered property, but that is just about all that is. This is not at all “property rights” in any kind of modern sense and is not really comparable to them.

The Mabo case is an example of indigenous people using the colonizers’ laws and concepts against them to prevent colonial appropriation and dispossession. “Aboriginal title” is a Western legal concept and not an indigenous one. Importantly, Aboriginal Australians did not “own” their lands, but had use rights and other kinds of claims on them. They could not buy, sell, or otherwise transfer those rights, any more than the Native Americans I work with could.

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ZM 10.02.15 at 4:50 am

“Importantly, Aboriginal Australians did not “own” their lands, but had use rights and other kinds of claims on them. They could not buy, sell, or otherwise transfer those rights, any more than the Native Americans I work with could.”

They did not own the lands like a householder owns their house and land, but as I mentioned in Australia the householder’s house and land is ultimately owned by the Crown anyhow.

Queen Elizabeth II can not sell Australia and nor did George III buy Australia in 1788 (or more accurately the colony of New South Wales) . And there is no way of transferring the title of Australia from the Crown except as much as is allowed by constitutional convention (and last time we had one of these there was not nearly enough discussion of the full legal ramifications of such a constitutional change – like who will ultimately own all the land if we have no Crown? – and most of the discussion was about the wording of the preamble which is not as important ) or war.

The Indigenous language and culture groups owned their countries in the same way as Queen Elizabeth II ultimately owns all the land in Australia now , except you just think it is like they had a different sort of constitution without a Crown or Parliament.

The Mabo case is interesting as Eddie Mabo was a Torres Strait Islander and I believe that they had land that was handed down patrilineally, which is different from the area of Victoria I live in which is in the country of the Dja Dja Wurrung who I think travelled through their land with the seasons rather than being settled.

As I already mentioned they even had border controls which was the “freedom of the bush” ceremony, that early settlers often performed with them. And sometimes land was held by more than one language group – these shared border lands were often used for corroborees with multiple language groups, a bit like the United Nations, or a bilateral treaty conference or something.

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DrDick 10.02.15 at 5:25 am

ZM –

This is entirely incoherent and displays a profound ignorance of the entire topic. The “Queen’s title” is at best totally titular and largely a legal fiction (given that she has no control over what is done with those lands), since I doubt any court in either Australia or the UK would allow her to sell those lands (which she could for lands that she actually owns, like all her castles and estates). George the III did not “buy” the land, he stole it, just as the British stole much of North America, Africa, India, and Burma, but that actually is a totally different topic. Territorial claims among Aboriginal groups were use rights held by the group as a whole, which is radically different from actual property rights which include the right to alienate (sell, gift, or otherwise transfer). The “freedom of the bush” ceremony you mention was a conferral of the right to use the resources of a given territory, not to own it. Such practices were common among mobile foragers like most Aboriginal Australians. In many cases (I do not know about Australia, as I am a Native Americanist), such permission was almost always granted (a matter of moral imperative) and entailed an obligation on the group making the request to reciprocate in kind. You are not at all helping your case here.

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Sebastian H 10.02.15 at 6:13 am

Sometimes people are rewarded with ‘power’. That often works out more painfully for people than ‘wealth’.

Dr. Dick, you seem to want to pretend that everything is obvious but you only preach. I’m sure that works for people when you have power over them. Less well when you don’t. I can see why you like to emphasize power though…

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Sebastian H 10.02.15 at 6:16 am

The discussion in the last fifty comments reinforces JQ’s intuition that we have to start with redistribution from where things are rather than try to figure out an ideal system stretching back to prehistory. The competing claims are too tangled to make discussion useful, much less make redistribution politically plausible.

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ZM 10.02.15 at 6:48 am

You appear not to have read my comment – as I already said the Queen cannot sell Australia despite being the ultimate owner of all the land and I already said George III did not buy the colony of New South Wales either, and I never said that the freedom of the bush ceremony gave settlers ownership of the land, just that it was like border control.

Calling people mobile foragers is very rude and it also is terribly old fashioned thinking as it is well established in Australia now that indigenous people had forms of land ownership, or moreover forms of sovereignty over the country that was theirs.

If you work with indigenous Americans you should know this sort of thing already so I’m not going to reply to your comments again.

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Collin Street 10.02.15 at 7:12 am

If you work with indigenous Americans you should know this sort of thing already so I’m not going to reply to your comments again.

I found the use of the phrasing “actual property rights” remarkable, for a person claiming training or experience.

159

Val 10.02.15 at 9:31 am

@137
I suppose at some point something will replace capitalism. However it the most effective economic system we have come up with to date and rejecting it due to a few problems seem dangerously like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A large proportion of the problems have entirely orthodox solutions such as pricing in externalities.

It is not a matter of externalities, it is a matter of treating both the natural environment and most other human beings (mainly those who do the caring work) as sources of ‘use values’. I don’t think most economists, including John Quiggin, have really understood that yet.

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Brett Dunbar 10.02.15 at 12:08 pm

@159 Sometimes they are treated as externalities and should be priced in, they are in many cases capable of being dealt with that way. For example fishing rights on rivers preventing actions that would damage the fish populations and inadvertently protecting the natural environment of the river.

Value is related to scarcity and usefulness to the consumer. If a thing is traded than it has a value, use value is pretty much the same as value and price. Exchange value isn’t a distinct thing, it’s a useful fiction.

Very few things are not valued due to actually being consumed, money being the only apparent exception, even then within the MMT conceptual framework money has value due to being consumed by the state to cancel tax obligations.

If something doesn’t have some value to someone they don’t care about it, the fact that you care about the environment indicates that it has a value to you therefore you would be prepared to pay a certain amount to consume it, that it it can be priced in.

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Lynne 10.02.15 at 12:39 pm

js: ” Even in societies like ours, which place a great emphasis on money and wealth, there are plenty of people who do essential and highly socially beneficial work not for the monetary rewards but because, well, they want to or because they find it satisfying.”

This is true. In Canada the blood bank gets all its blood from donors. I used to give regularly (they won’t take mine now because I lived in the UK during the mad cow crisis). It didn’t confer status, but it did feel satisfying to donate something so useful.

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engels 10.02.15 at 1:13 pm

Blood banks actually work more effectively without financial incentives

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DrDick 10.02.15 at 2:19 pm

Dr. Dick, you seem to want to pretend that everything is obvious but you only preach. I’m sure that works for people when you have power over them. Less well when you don’t. I can see why you like to emphasize power though…

Once again, I never mentioned power. Drunk blogging is never advisable. Go sleep it off. I would add that the projection is powerful in this comment, since all you have done is make assertions with no supporting evidence.

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DrDick 10.02.15 at 2:28 pm

You appear not to have read my comment

On the contrary, you seem not to have comprehended mine. I said that the Queen did not “own” the land, as she does not have the rights of alienation (which are entailed in an ownership right). “Mobile forager” is the technical anthropological term for the subsistence system traditionally followed by most of the Australian Aborigines (those in southeastern Australia were intensive collectors) and not at all pejorative or old fashioned. The distinction between mobile foragers and intensive collectors is in fact quite modern, as they were all lumped together as hunter-gatherers until about two decades ago. Aboriginal peoples had traditional ties to the land (though it is probably more accurate to say that the land owned them), but aboriginal title and sovereignty have been established in western law, not traditional practice and custom. I think you need to take some anthropology classes before saying any more.

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DrDick 10.02.15 at 2:41 pm

Collin Street –

Again, the argument is over the nature of property rights and the distinction between those and use rights. Both you and ZM appear to have no knowledge on the topic, or aboriginal relations to the land, at all. Most Native Americans found the very concept of selling land or alienating it incomprehensible until fairly late in the colonial period, as well documented in treaty negotiation. Even such putative “sales”, such as that of Manhattan, were actually payments for use rights, not ownership. The Lenape, whom the Dutch paid for it, later charged them again, after they had abandoned the settlement there, and yet again to the English when the Dutch ceded the colony to them. Indigenous claims to land are not generally based on notions of property, but rather on enduring relations with it, almost a kinship tie (and no, this is not a “mother earth trope, which is actually quite late and metaphorical).

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Bruce Wilder 10.02.15 at 4:30 pm

The successful entrepreneur realizes wealth not because the entrepreneur has navigated a system designed to offer wealth as the motivating reward, but because wealth is the remnant and residual of capital employed as the tool of power to motivate the assembly resources.

Property so excited the 17th century English elite, because property did not just represent power, property generated power together with personal freedom from the constraints of authority, religious, intellectual and feudal for those in possession of sufficient quantity. It is today a cliche to oppose personal freedom to the claims of property to authority, but the historical emergence of such distinctions occurred in a context in which authority had a different and more expansive claim on loyalty, and sovereignty as a concept was an unresolved neologism.

I think the anthropologist’s view of Property as a concept in a hunter-gatherer society are interesting, but it ought to be recognized that concepts of property and sovereignty that Europeans brought to their conquests were no less emergent, contested, confused and ceremonial even. That it was thought necessary to transfer sovereignty from indigenous people by treaty and purchase ought to be as subject to anthropologist’s scrutiny and analysis as the ideas and behaviours of “primitive people”.

I agree with JQ that tracing the distribution of property to an imaginary Ur has little to recommend it morally or politically, but it is interesting that such constitutionalism (and that is what it is) has such a psychological hold on us.

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Marshall 10.02.15 at 4:35 pm

George the III did not “buy” the land, he stole it

“Stole”?? You mean George usurped the aboriginal rights to the Australian bush? Or what? (Anyway it was more a case of strong-arm robbery.)

Citation for your definition of “property rights” please?

168

DrDick 10.02.15 at 6:21 pm

Citation for your definition of “property rights” please?

You could start with almost any introductory anthro textbook. This is really standard issue economic anthropology.

Here is a link for a brief summary: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cultural_Anthropology/Production,_Inequality_and_Development

There is also this: http://ser.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/2/287.short
And this: http://thememorybank.co.uk/2007/11/09/a-short-history-of-economic-anthropology/

169

Val 10.02.15 at 11:38 pm

Ok well having kind of accidentally got engaged with this through defending Plume, I have now decided to try again with critique of mainstream economics. I don’t know if JQ is still reading this, but here goes anyway.

I’ve written before about the ecofeminist analysis of how knowledge (particularly mainstream economics in this case) reflects the assumptions of patriarchal, hierarchical societies that arose and became dominant (although not universal) in the last few thousand years.

One example of this is expressed in the Christian religion, obviously very important in the English speaking countries. The key point for this argument is that in the Bible (Genesis) God gave man (humanity) dominion over the land and species. (There is also another separate myth about how he gave women to men for their use, but I won’t go into that here – it’s important but would take too long).

I’m not suggesting for a moment that you (JQ) are a creationist of course! But the thing about discourse and knowledge is that aspects can persist while others change. So while most economists I’m sure aren’t creationists, they still seem to think of the world as a thing that humans own and control, hence notions like use value.

(Market economics, such as discussed by Brett Dunbar above, is of course a subset in which ‘the economy’ consists of only those things that are traded and exchanged. I can’t quite work out where you – JQ – sit on this. Anyway as I’ve discussed before it’s an important subset of knowledge because economics as explicated by the UN, the WTO, and so on, is based on this idea, see Marilyn Waring whom I’ve mentioned before)

The alternative form of knowledge into which we are (possibly) moving is ecology – the world is a system of which we are part. We affect the system of course, but we don’t control it and we don’t own it, so conventional notions of property (as in the idealised notions you refer to above) don’t make sense. You can’t ‘own’ something of which you are part. This – hopefully – new way of seeing and understanding the world does seem similar to the way other societies (eg Neolithic, early Europe farming, Indigenous) may have seen it or see it.

For this reason I think – contrary to what you suggest in the OP – that it is important to critique our basic ideas of property, and try to understand some others that maybe make more sense and are more useful in the era into which we are moving (like it or not).

I think ZM is also talking about some of these ideas in a different (more activist) way. Can I also say that I think the argument between ZM and DrDick is a bit unfortunate, I would be more interested if they clarified their differences rather than had an argument. Perhaps DrDick could get a new user name, that might help (DrDick sounds trollish, at least to Australian ears)

170

Marshall 10.03.15 at 5:16 pm

Possibly we should take this off-line, but probably there’s nobody left in this bar but you and me, and I’m still hoping to learn something, so.

I don’t see that your references discuss “rights” at all. The Wikipedia article says that a defining characteristic of an agricultural (Neolithic) economy is “land ownership” with socially enforced use and water rights. It also points out that “Karl Marx theorized that the ownership of the means of production is the root of why classes exist” which I suppose is where you are coming from?

Your third reference seems to be extensively a critique of Neoliberalism with only a few remarks about human societies in general, but there’s this:

Distribution, the question of property in particular … is a contested field in which there is disagreement over basic concepts: while legal anthropologists have recently elaborated a sophisticated analytical model for the cross-cultural analysis of property, setting economic aspects alongside many other social functions, others maintain that the very notion of property is Eurocentric and therefore inappropriate in studying regions such as [Malinowski’s] Melanesia … Despite such concerns, land tenure has remained a major focus of empirical research efforts worldwide; … debates over common property have attracted much attention outside anthropology.

I don’t see anything here that supports your felt right to be dogmatic. Evidently it’s a live scholarly question which would turn on more precision for “the very notion of property”, which is what I already asked you for, which you haven’t supplied. Personally, I really don’t see how you can make generalized “property” a merely Eurocentric notion without putting nine pounds of tailings into a one-pound sack but I’m willing to listen. Also:

Hann (2007) draws attention to a new form of ‘double movement’: the scope of property is continuously modified, both from above through the regulations of states and other authorities, and from below through the actions of citizens and consumers.

That would seem to hit the post-Marxist spot: citizens and consumers claiming their felt individual and social rights in tension with state regulation. Too bad I don’t have immediate access to your second reference, a recent article by Dr. Hann … next week. So many books, so little time.

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DrDick 10.03.15 at 6:27 pm

You obviously have problems with reading comprehension, since those links do support my argument and I never said property was Eurocentric, but that it is only characteristic of strongly hierarchical societies.

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Bruce Wilder 10.03.15 at 8:27 pm

Marshall quoted, “George the III did not “buy” the land, he stole it” Nothing DrDick cited supports that troll bait.

I did enjoy reading thru the Keith Hart essay from The Memory Bank, even though large parts were little more than hand-waving and name-dropping.

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Ronan(rf) 10.03.15 at 8:34 pm

Bruce wilder, I read this today and for some reason thought you might enjoy it. I, in my peculiarly ignorant manner, have to say I liked it a lot

http://www.drb.ie/essays/'them-poor-irish-lads'-in-pennsylvania

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ZM 10.03.15 at 9:52 pm

Val,

To clarify my points,

The Crown is the ultimate owner of all land in Australia, except where native title is not extinguished and then there is the Crown and the indigenous language and cultural group as the ultimate owners. I went to the law library and looked this up so it is correct in law. But the Queen cannot sell Australia, this is as like the Queen has two bodies she has two kinds of ownership, property of the royal households etc which she needs taxpayers to subsidise as the buildings and grounds are too big and the maintenance is expensive, and property of the Crown which she owns in her Office and can’t just sell it.
In America this is not the case as freehold title is absolute ownership except for the takings cause in the 5th Amendment I mentioned above as it was used in the court case John Quiggin mentions in his Jacobin article.

Indigenous people do not have exactly translateable concepts of or relations to land equivalent to property and rights in English law. Some older concepts of customary or common lame might be more similar. In a 1970s court case involving the Yolngu people the judge made a ruling that was similar to something said above, that Indigenous people were more owned by the land than owners of the land: ” seems easier on the evidence, to say that the clan belongs to the land than that the land belongs to the clan” . But this case was superseded by the Mabo case and the Wik case in the 1990s which both upheld the land rights of traditional indigenous owners. In Australia it is common to say indigenous people are the traditional owners, although of course if you are going to be particular you can give a more detailed elaboration of what traditional ownership means, and this is why I put it above as being more like the Crown’s ownership and sovereignty rather than a landholder’s as a sort of custodianship is involved that is inter-generational.

But of course recognition of traditional ownership has not been without its problems and politics. At the moment there is debate at the federal level of whether indigenous traditional ownership should be more like private property whereas now it is collective. There are contested claims of ownership and different forms of ownership eg, some recognise adoption but if an important elder adopts someone from outside who then has a higher position in some customary law the local indigenous people can dispute this claim. And there is the difficulty of some areas where native title has been extinguished due to development, social causes, or environmental damage like the nuclear tests in South Australia.

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Val 10.03.15 at 11:34 pm

ZM @ 174

Yes I suppose part of the difference between our approaches that you are trying to look at how things stand in law, whereas I am looking at epistemology and discourse – what are the concepts we use, what do they mean to us, did/do others have similar concepts, etc?

It’s interesting you point out that there is a difference between freehold in the US ( closer to the ‘idealised’ concept mentioned by JQ above – my land and I can do what I like with it) and in Australia. Reinforces again the fundamental difference between our cultures, even though superficially alike – the different role of the state (as you will know, the relationship between the ‘Crown’ and the ‘State’ is quite complex in Aus, but I’m putting them together here for simplicity) and the greater emphasis on individualism in the US.

As I mentioned before, what I’m doing – like Plume – is trying to imagine what a different society would be like, if we imagined our relationship with the world differently. From an ecological viewpoint, the concept of belonging to the land, rather than the land belonging to us, that you mentioned in the Yolngu case above, seems quite useful. That concept was mentioned by an environmental officer in a forum during my research project, and people were quite taken with it – it seemed to work for them.

I tend to conceptualise these ideas under care – we have a responsibility to care for the land and each other. That doesn’t specfically deal with the notion of ownership, but could be adapted to various forms of ownership – even if you ‘own’ a piece of land, you have a responsibility to care for it sustainably and share its products with others fairly. It would rule out many current forms of intensive agriculture and factory farming for example ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/25/industrial-farming-one-worst-crimes-history-ethical-question) as well as profit taking.

I think John Quiggin did address some of these issues in his statement that all property rights are subject to “social decisions”, ie the rights of ownership are socially created, even the idealised form (and therefore could be changed by social decisions, such as legislation).

You might be interested in this article by my former supervisor Marian Quartly http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10314619208595890 . It’s not on this precise topic (although ownership and property are implicit themes, as with most analysis of colonialism) but is a really interesting discussion about the relationship between discourse, imagination and socially constructed reality.

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Brett Dunbar 10.04.15 at 2:47 pm

It may be possible to organise things differently fundamentally however all of the ones we have actually tried have worked less well. Without intensive agriculture we wouldn’t be able to feed ourselves. I don’t think any economic system that caused widespread periodic famine would be an improvement. Exclusive use of land gives the possessor the ability to keep the benefits of any gains from land improvements. The enclosure process provides an example of this the enclosed land tended to see an increase in productivity. For example changing an open-field system from a three crop rotation to a more productive four crop required the agreement of the village under open-field while under a private system a farmer could change without needing anyone’s consent. This made it easier for new best practices to spread in areas with private ownership. Open field was subject to a controlled natural experiment lasting centuries. It was inferior.

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ZM 10.04.15 at 10:58 pm

Brett Dunbar,

You are confusing scientific and technological developments with economics. If they had a similar amount of science and technology in the 1300s this would have helped them avoid plagues too. But how we are farming now has problems, such as causing soil degradation and causing an imbalance of the phosphorous and nitrogen cycles, on a twenty-year time frame (due to the shorter life of methane) agriculture presently contributes 54% of greenhouse gas emission forcing, taking too much water from river systems, paying migrants illegally low wages as farm labourers etc.

The enclosure process happened a long time ago and was very unfair and undemocratic and meant lots of people had to go and work in awful factories that were not well regulated. If the parliament had principled reasons to enclose some of the commons they should have done so on a consultative and equitable basis at the time, and the same with migration to the former colonies and the enclosure of the indigenous peoples land. After this the system of private ownership has somewhat settled now after some centuries, but still has problems including those outlined above.

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Val 10.04.15 at 11:22 pm

@ 176
Also Brett may I add that famines are not only related to climate or agricultural issues, they are often related to social and political issues also – that is, they result from problems of distribution as well as scarcity. We have discussed at length previously on CT the Irish famine in the 19th century – it is well known that it resulted not only from the failure of the potato crop but also because major landowners continued exporting crops rather than using them for famine relief at home, under British government policies.

If you are interested to know more about famine, I have just started to read ‘Famine : a short history’ by Cormac Ó Gráda, which looks interesting.

As ZM points out, modern intensive agriculture is not sustainable due to resource use, land degradation and high emissions. There is an interesting article in The Conversation (Australia) at present which discusses amongst other things the way that faming needs to change, including a shift to a permaculture type model. https://theconversation.com/less-water-less-waste-and-more-local-goods-how-21st-century-leadership-can-be-sustainable-47921

I have heard talks by farmers who are making this kind of shift, their work is amazing but not well enough known yet. Many farmers in Australia are however adapting in certain ways including growing more native vegetation on their land and not plowing (crop farmers using seed drill methods that don’t disturb the soil).

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ZM 10.05.15 at 12:37 am

Val,

Farmers markets and the movement to more local and seasonal fruit and vegetables are also good for farmers. And also social media gives farmers the opportunity to communicate directly with customers and also with each other to share information about sustainable farming in a way that is not mediated by agribusiness. Even though farming can have negative impacts often farmers, with ecologists and naturalists and park managers and even recreational hunters and fishers, are the people who know a lot about nature and seasons and things, for instance from a history perspective think of the enormous resource of farmers almanacs to look at how growing seasons have changed with climate change and rainfall and birdlife and so on.

In answer to your last post, when I studied history I looked more at epistemology and discourses and found that interesting. As planning is more of a professional rather than academic discipline I needed to shift my focus to the normative and direction to the future. The planning and environment act in Victoria has objectives and clauses about the sustainable development and use of land, but like most countries this is not really being met at the moment. The federal government just comitted to all Australian cities being sustainable by 2030, so I live in hope…

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ZM 10.05.15 at 12:56 am

Also I remember you writing on another thread about how even within politics and policy making there are different sorts of objectives and discourses occurring at the same time, when you pointed out health and public health policy and language was different from finance department policy. I agree this is important. Peter Christoff and Robyn Eckersley make the point that what is needed to achieve sustainability is more harmony between social, economic, and environmental policy.

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Val 10.05.15 at 3:45 am

ZM
Yes I agree about reconciling the policy areas and cross discipline language. At the risk of being a policy imperialist, I think health is a good frame – the healthy people, healthy planet type frame. However I am also trying to think ecologically which somehow should involve not putting people in the primary or central position – it’s very difficult though. There was also a great article about this on The Conversation a while ago, I don’t know if I kept a record somewhere.

I am very interested in this sustainable cities by 2030 business, I can’t see how they are going to achieve it without some drastic measures, but I think I read the other day it will involve buying permits from poorer countries which is all a bit shonky. There is a chilling chapter in Ariel Salleh (ed) ‘Eco-sufficiency & global justice : women write political ecology’ by Ana Isla ‘Who pays for the Kyoto protocol: selling oxygen and selling sex in Costa Rica’ pp 199-217
My notes:
Costa Rica as a poor and indebted country was keen to sell carbon reduction measures to wealthy countries. However locking up forests drove campesinos and campesinas off the land, they were not likely to get work in industry. Many women and children work in the sex trade. This also raises revenue to pay off the national debt [ I presume through taxation of the brothels]. Western or Northern economic thought treats everything in economic terms as capital – human capital and natural or environmental capital (services of nature) – commodifies and monetises everything, hence the arrangements for buying carbon abatement permits under the Kyoto protocol. Isla draws parallels with eco-tourism and sex trade – nature and the natural bodies of women and children are commodified for wealthy tourists.
Economic measures reflect power structures – one result of this is that work done particularly by women [or one could add subordinate groups like slaves] including “nourishment, care, stress recovery, waste assimilation, reproduction and restoration” is “uncounted” p 188.

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ZM 10.05.15 at 10:34 am

Yes that is truly awful, I do not support international carbon trading at all, I do not even especially support this mechanism in a national market either. There were problems with the mechanism of forest preservation in South East Asia too with corruption.

I do think the idea of financial and technology related intellectual property transfers to developing countries is good, for forests and other measures. Thinking of the Middle East policy thread all the money spent on wars in the Middle East in the last 15 years could have been better spent on this, and now we only have a similar amount of time to meet the sustainable development goals by 2030.

In terms of non-human centric thinking it exists in history and to some extent in various longstanding cultural heritages, medieval Christianity for instance is almost animism in some respects, and in some Asian cultures and Indigenous cultures. It is becoming more academic now, in one subject we had to look at various principles, such as environmental justice and ecological solidarity – the latter has been used in French forest management and the former has been based in activism and in the past anti-racist and socially oriented but has newer elements incorporating ecological non-human centric thought. Also I have been meaning to read a chapter in a book on climate change and the capabilities approach which Ingrid has posted on, this chapter is about the environment being a meta-capability. In urban planning past practices that segregated uses is no longer thought as highly of, and I think that this sort of segregation is what makes things difficult as when we are making decisions about consumption and so on we are often in very unnatural environments so bringing nature back into cities is a way of connecting people with nature again in their daily lives, considering a high proportion of people live in cities now. This is a bit like segregating factory workers into industrial suburbs, or now less wealthy countries in factory towns makes it easier to not consider the conditions of workers in buying decisions too.

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Brett Dunbar 10.05.15 at 6:50 pm

The point of tradable emission permits is to require polluters to price in the cost of emitting CO2, incentivising them to reduce emissions. The same basic approach worked on SO2 emissions with the result that acid rain has been largely eliminated. Issuing additional permits for activities that absorb excess carbon also act as an incentive to protect thing that are either a carbon store like forest or a carbon sink like peat bog or various marine environments.

The enclosure process took centuries. Some areas had always had private land holding, they even in the middle ages showed a tendency to be more productive than otherwise similar land under the open-field system. Enclosure tended to have the support both of landowners and of the more successful and effective peasants, subsidence farming is a miserable and precarious existence.

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Marshall.peace 10.05.15 at 7:59 pm

I don’t see ultra-rich nearly as problematical as ultra-poor. I hear the normative level of social satisfaction in humans is achieved at household incomes well south of $100k; beyond that your concerns change is all. If everyone were up there, I don’t see a problem with ultra-richness per se; maybe some after-the-revolution paradise would still have a social-ecological need for them. Capitalism requires people to be the owners of the factories, some of which are very large. The problem isn’t that factories have owners, it’s that the owners our society has are abusive. Not sure that can be fixed with a change of tax policy. However, encouraging news: Arrive le Jacquerie! (pardon my French)

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ZM 10.06.15 at 10:41 am

“The point of tradable emission permits is to require polluters to price in the cost of emitting CO2, incentivising them to reduce emissions. The same basic approach worked on SO2 emissions with the result that acid rain has been largely eliminated. ”

It’s not the same as greenhouse gasses are emitted in a variety of uses such as energy, livestock, horticulture, land clearing and burning etc so the range of actions needed to reduce emissions in a timely way is much wider. And it is not fair charging carbon prices to companies that will end up being forced to close down as they can’t change and this is also just counter productive in my view as these companies are impediments now for two reasons : not liking being charged a price, and not wanting to close down. If you are going to make a wide range of companies close down or change in big ways they are not especially inclined to without regulation then you should probably be doing change management not charging them prices I think.

“The enclosure process took centuries. Some areas had always had private land holding, they even in the middle ages showed a tendency to be more productive than otherwise similar land under the open-field system. Enclosure tended to have the support both of landowners and of the more successful and effective peasants, subsidence farming is a miserable and precarious existence.”

To a Fallen Elm – John Clare

Old Elm that murmured in our chimney top
The sweetest anthem autumn ever made
And into mellow whispering calms would drop
When showers fell on thy many coloured shade
And when dark tempests mimic thunder made
While darkness came as it would strangle light
With the black tempest of a winter night
That rocked thee like a cradle to thy root
How did I love to hear the winds upbraid
Thy strength without while all within was mute
It seasoned comfort to our hearts desire
We felt thy kind protection like a friend
And pitched our chairs up closer to the fire
Enjoying comforts that was was never penned
Old favourite tree thoust seen times changes lower
But change till now did never come to thee
….
Thine spoke a feeling known in every tongue
Language of pity and the force of wrong
What cant assumes what hypocrites may dare
Speaks home to truth and shows it what they are

I see a picture that thy fate displays
And learn a lesson from thy destiny
Self interest saw thee stand in freedoms ways
So thy old shadow must a tyrant be
Thoust heard the knave abusing those in power
Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free
Thoust sheltered hypocrites in many an hour
That when in power would never shelter thee
Thoust heard the knave supply his canting powers
With wrongs illusions when he wanted friends
That bawled for shelter when he lived in showers
And when clouds vanished made thy shade ammends
With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom – O I hate that sound

It grows the cant terms of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right
It grows a liscence with oer bearing fools
To cheat plain honesty by force of might
Thus came enclosure- ruin was her guide
But freedoms clapping hands enjoyed the sight
Tho comforts cottage soon was thrust aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the site
Een natures dwelling far away from men
The common heath became the spoilers prey
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labours only cow was drove away
No matter- wrong was right and right was wrong
And freedoms brawl was sanction to the song

Such was thy ruin music making Elm
The rights of freedom was to injure thine
As thou wert served so would they overwhelm
In freedoms name the little so would they over whelm
And these are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger powers
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedoms birthright from the weak devours

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